The first time I had battered, fried olives was about 20 years ago in Tivoli, Italy in a little restaurant off a twisty, windy street. I’ve since seen them pop up on a few restaurant appetizer menus.
Tivoli is a town about 45 minutes NE of Rome. Although Tivoli goes back to ancient Rome, it is more famous for the Renaissance popes and cardinals who used it for a summer home with the adjacent Villa d’Este gardens and fountains. It’s well worth a day trip if you happen to visit Rome.
But you don’t need to travel or go to a restaurant to enjoy fried olives. Which, by the way, should not be confused with the likes of fried Twinkies or candy bars — this isn’t carnival food. Think of this more like a perfect bar snack you’d have with one of my Cosmopolitans, Hugo Cocktails, or Summer Stone Fruit Sangrias
I don’t fry a lot of things. It’s often messy and not so healthy. This is one of my few exceptions. Especially if you use a deep 1-quart sauce pan, the amount of oil and mess is minimal. I use sunflower oil. But any flavorless, high-smoke point oil is fine.
A note about dredging the olives. Normal dredging is in the order of flour, egg, crumbs. I’ve found that I need to egg, flour, re-egg and then crumb. That’s how I can get extra breading to stick. It’s messy, but worth it.
A note about olives: I use olives with pits. They are fresher and have more flavor. You can use any variety (American, French, Italian, Spanish) or color, but if you want to work quickly, use medium or large ones. You can also use stuffed olives (e.g., pimento, garlic, blue cheese) but watch out for splattering oil when it reacts to the stuffing moisture. I don’t recommend using pitted, non-stuffed or dry cured olives.
The flavor and texture really transform when olives are heated and fried. They become softer and take on a meaty flavor. The bowl will be gone before you know it. Try adding these to your appetizer repertoire!
Tivoli Style Fried Olives
- 1 1/2 cups olives (any variety or color that you like)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Vegetable oil (about 1 – 1 1/2 cups)
- Heat to 350F (175C) in about 1 inch of oil in a 1-quart sauce pan. If you don’t have a thermometer, just drop a little breadcrumb mixture in the hot oil. If it sizzles and bubbles immediately, then it’s ready
- Set up a tray of paper towels to absorb extra oil once the olives are fried
- Place flour in a shallow bowl
- Beat an egg in a separate shallow bowl
- Mix breadcrumbs and cheese and place in its own shallow bowl
- Dip olives, about five at a time in beaten egg, roll in flour, re-dip in egg, then roll in breadcrumb and cheese mixture. It’s messy. Try to have one wet hand and keep one dry hand
- Place about 5 olives at a time in the hot oil. Fry until deeply golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon to paper towel tray and keep frying in batches until you’ve used all the olives
- Serve hot. Warn guests about pits if you used olives with pits