Mediterranean in Little Italy: Dates, Olives, and Sweet Spanish Clementines
Chef Olivia Hayo of Beautiful Food Inside + Out re-creates her culinary memories of the Mediterranean using inspiration, and local, seasonal ingredients, from her home in San Diego's Little Italy. This week, a Spanish olive mill serves as inspiration for a perfect end-of-winter meal.
Our journey into the countryside was punctuated by Moorish castles perched high above the fertile valley. We were headed to an olive cooperative that continued to honor and preserve the production methods brought to the region by the Moors centuries before.
A yellow-trimmed, whitewashed warehouse glowed brightly in the early spring sun. The hustle of the olive harvest was long gone, only rows of empty bins and conveyor belts hinted at the busy season past.
We were welcomed by a seasoned member of the cooperative, who led us inside where the hard-earned bounty of the harvest was stored and transformed.
He stopped in front of a large sealed barrel, fitting a large, metal hoop “key” around the lid and spinning it open. Pale green olives bobbed in a cloudy bath of salt water. He dipped a sieve inside and offered us a taste of two-week-aged olives, which were tender, salty, and mildly sweet. The fermentation had already transformed them from bitter to briny.
We made our way outside where date palms, citrus, and olive trees dissolved into the distance. Standing on what we thought were just slabs of concrete, we soon discovered that we were standing atop underground vats of long-aging olives. Sheltered from changing temperatures and light the olives would be fermented for three months before being packed with fresh garlic, wild fennel, thyme and pepper.
The textures and contrasting flavors of Andalusia became enduring culinary influences for me. Back home in San Diego, I was thrilled to find a local supply of dates, citrus, and olives at my farmers market.
I combined these seemingly juxtaposed ingredients in a vibrant dish of deeply roasted chicken seasoned with floral fennel and paired with jammy dates, briny olives, and refreshingly sweet clementines. It is a dish I feel honors my time in southern Spain, and makes me appreciate the abundance in my backyard.