My first serious Moroccan cookbook was A Taste of Morocco by Robert Carrier. It was published in 1987. I already had Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Food and Arto der Haroutunian’s North African Cookery.

I lived in Adelaide then and with three friends once a month we celebrated different ethnic cuisines by cooking in our own homes and then sharing it at each other’s places. Each of us prepared food for 1 course – all of us were excellent cooks, had busy lives and loved to socialize. We spent less time, less planning, less money (we all liked to drink good wine) and we deepened our friendship and repertoire of cooking styles, ingredients and recipes of particular cuisines. The special privilege of the host was that they could invite 2-3 extra people of their choice.


We had this system in place well before 1987 but for the first Moroccan meal I was responsible for the appetisers and entrées (as we called those courses then!!). And part of the nibbles I bought were a variety of dressed olives.
I have said before that I never follow a recipe from A-Z and nor did I do that on this occasion, but I played around with the ingredients suggested in Robert Carrier’s recipes and I still play around with these ingredients still when I marinate olives.

In my fridge at present: 3 types of olives and preserved lemons

In this post I will provide a list of the ingredients I may use when making Moroccan olive salads. I use:

Different types/ colours/ sized of olives in brine, i.e. I may use my own olives that I have pickled in brine or bought small olives, large ones, green ones, black ones, cracked olives etc.

As the mood takes me I will use some of the following ingredients to dress and marinate the olives: harissa (North African spice paste) thyme sprigs, lemon slices, preserved lemons, fresh coriander, fresh flat leaved parsley, fresh red or green hot peppers, dried oregano, fennel seeds, cumin, fresh lemon, bitter oranges (Saville), chilli flakes.

Always, always extra virgin olive oil and I keep the jars of marinaded olives in the fridge and allow them to marinate at least 24 hours before we eat them. You are likely to find marinated olives in the fridge anytime you visit me – they store well and keep for ages.

For more olive recipes in this blog see:

ULIVI CUNZATE, INSALATA DI OLIVE – Sicilian Green olives/ Olive salad

CHEAT FOOD: Marinaded white anchovies AND Olive Schiacciate made with commercially prepared olives


And one of my most popular posts by far: HOW TO PICKLE OLIVES


PESCE AL CARTOCCIO (Fish in a bag)


Al cartoccio in Italian is the culinary term for cooked in a paper parcel or a paper bag and versions of this dish are cooked all over Italy. You may also have eaten pasta al catoccio and in fact, recently in a restaurant in Melbourne, I ate a version of pasta cooked in a bag and it was made with braised mushroom.

Last time I was in Sicily I ate Fish in a bag in a restaurant in Sciacca (south west coast). They had added a little seawater and a few prawns and mussels to their version (see photo below); I have used black olives instead.

Traditionally the fish was wrapped in strong parchment-like paper, but metal foil has reached Italy and Sicily and has replaced the paper. I like to use foil, but I line the package with some baking paper – this prevents sticking and provides greater insulation. Adding seawater has been a common practice when cooking fish dishes and the restaurant called their version pesce in acqua di mare (fish cooked in seawater). If you live close to the sea, 1 tablespoon of seawater is sufficient.

Every time I have eaten this dish in a restaurant in Italy, the parcel was presented at the table and pierced by the waiter; he then separated the fish into fillets and served it on my plate.

I have used a whole Yellowtail Kingfish for this recipe and it was sufficient for two people.

extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
salt or(1 tablespoon of seawater)
flat leaf parsley or fresh basil or oregano to taste
garlic, 1-3 cloves, sliced
black olives (good quality), to taste
cherry tomatoes, 4-5 per fish
Preheat the oven to 220 C.
Clean the fish: scale, gut and wipe dry. Use a sharp knife to make shallow cuts in the outside of a whole fish –slash the fish but leave whole.
Use strong foil large enough to wrap the fish like a parcel. Place a piece of baking paper on the foil and the fish on the centre (with a little oil underneath)
Add other ingredients.
Fold the edges of the foil together tightly to make a neat package with an airtight seal.
My fish weighed just below 1 kilo and I cooked it for 25 mins.
The easiest way to see if it is cooked, is to check it after this time and cook it longer if necessary. Once you take it out of the oven, remember that the residual heat in the fish will cause it to keep on cooking, either keep it sealed if you wish it to go on cooking, or make a hole in the parcel to allow some of the heat and steam to escape.
Serve the fish with the juices from the package. At the time of serving it, I added a drizzle of my best, extra virgin olive oil to make it more aromatic.




These olives in the photograph were picked from the same tree on the same day. Olives do not have the good manners to ripen all at the same time on the one tree; they will range in colour from green to violet to black (different degree of ripeness) and be of varying sizes.

There are many different recipes for pickling olives butI only have one small tree and in general I pick my olives when they are half ripened – no longer green, but not yet black – a violet colour. I continue to collect them in 2-3 batches over a week and pickle them by first soaking in fresh water and then in brine, but keep each batch separate and put each batch in brine in different jars. It is also not a good idea to process olives of different varieties in the same container even if they are at the same degree of ripeness – different varieties may require differing length of time for pickling and different methods. For example I prefer to cure ripe, black olives in coarse salt and then preserve them in extra virgin olive oil. For both recipes see: How to pickle olives

Sometimes to facilitate the water and brine to penetrate the olives more easily, I use a mallet to bruise them or make 2-3 slits on each olive or prick them with a wine cork and some sewing needles (see this home made implement in the photo above). These are called Olive schiacciate. I would recommend doing this with large olives.


These bright green, commercially processed olives in the photo below are called Sicilian olives in Australia. They are picked green and generally pickled with caustic soda (lye), but a kinder to one’s body and more environmentally friendly process is to steep them in a mixture of wood ash and water (but do not expect the same bright green colour).

It is important to use ash from untreated wood – not wood that has been contaminated by paint or treated with chemicals and preferably from a fireplace or wood burning stove in your own home.

I found the following recipe, Olives Vertes a la Picholine, in Preserving, The Good Cook/Techniques and Recipes, Time Life Books. The recipe is taken from a French publication: Encyclopedie Hachette de la cuisine Regionale by Celine Vence.

Once the olives have soaked in the wood ash mixture they are steeped in clear water for another period of time and then stored in brine that has been flavoured with some aromatics: a bay leaf, coriander seeds, fennel sprigs and orange rind. Coriander is not a Sicilian spice and apart from just using salt, you may wish to add just bay leaves and/or replace the coriander with fennel seeds. It you have opportunity to use the stalks of wild fennel, half your luck.

I have never used orange rind in the brine and prefer to use it in the dressing. You may wish to use the olives to make an olive salad.

green olives, 2 k
wood ash, 2 k, mixed with hot water to make a thick runny paste, cool before using
water, 2 litres
salt, 200g
bay leaf,1
fennel, sprigs, 2
coriander seeds, 24
orange rind, peeled in strips, from ½ an orange
In a large bowl or crock mix the olives in the mixture of ash and water.
Leave them 10-12 days. Stir them a few times every day (the stone in the olives will begin to feel loose).
Rinse the olives thoroughly, cover them in clean water and allow them to stand for 10 days, changing the water each day.
Bring the brine ingredients to the boil, boil for 15 minutes, and cool. (If using fresh fennel sprigs or orange peel I would remove these in case they contaminate the olives).
Drain the olives, return them to the crock, and cover with the cold brine. Store for at least a week before using.

I prefer to store my olives in sterile jars; I keep the olives submerged with some plastic netting (from a plastic mesh roll or gutter guard mesh) and always cover my olives with about 5mm layer of olive oil on top – this seals the surface and prevents surface molds.

When I am ready to eat the olives, I drain them and dress them with some extra virgin, olive oil and any of the following aromatics: crushed garlic, some of the green, fresh feathery part of the fennel chopped finely, thin strips of orange or lemon peel, fennel seeds, fresh bay leaves, crushed dry chillies. Steep them in the aromatic mixture at least overnight and keep them in the fridge.


ULIVI CUNZATE, INSALATA DI OLIVE – Sicilian Green olives/ Olive salad


I do not usually buy dressed olives – some combinations can be very salty, others taste what I refer to as “synthetic” i.e. the quality and taste of the oil could be better, the blend of spices and herbs fresher or the combination of flavours are not to my taste. I would much rather buy some good quality, plain kalamata olives and dress my own, using good quality extra virgin olive oil and spices I like.

My cousin Lidia lives in Augusta (east coast of Sicily) and she makes very good olive salads using black or green olives.I like to use her method of dressing olives using green, Sicilian olives.

What we are calling ‘Sicilan green olives’ in Australia are those very distinctive vivid, bright green coloured olives (almost unnatural in colour – this is due to the pickling process). They have a softer, creamier texture than conventional olives and are milder tasting – no bitterness or saltiness. These olives seem to have become a bit of a fad recently In Melbourne.

In Sicily, these green pickled olives are said to come from Castelvetrano in the province of Trapani.


Lidia adds giardiniera (pickled Italian vegetables in vinegar) to the olives. Ratio: 1 part giardiniera to 3 part olives.

Add finely chopped parsley, spring onion, red chilli and garlic to taste.

She also uses the inner heart of the celery – those tender light green stalks and their leaves chopped finely.

Nothing savoury is ever eaten without good quality olive oil. Dress the salad generously.

But, it is the finely cut, fresh mint that is the refreshing addition – add this last of all and present to the table.

When I make the olive salad I present it as an antipasto. It does not keep well – the mint turns dark, the salad component goes soft. (And this is why for the most part the ready bought, dressed olives taste ‘synthetic’ – picked fresh ingredients perish too quickly and are not generally used for the take-away market).

For other recipes on how to pickle and dress olives, see earlier posts labelled ‘Olives’.



OLIVE SCHIACCIATE (Fresh Cracked Olives)


I love olives, especially those that still taste slightly bitter.

Many Sicilian recipes also include olives as an ingredient. Whenever a recipe calls for olives I try to include good quality ones, and usually these are not the type of olives sold pickled in jars. And sold at a cheap price. In Australia we seem to have many good quality, black olives, but I often have difficulties purchasing good tasting green olives. Some olives often taste too synthetic and can spoil the taste of the dish.

I am always excited when I find good quality produce and recently I purchased some excellent crushed green olives.

As you can see in the picture, the label does not include much information. The web site listed is Sunraysia Olive Oil Company. Unfortunately this web site is not there and any attempt to find information through google will be about Mildura and environs.

Schiacciate means crushed in Italian. Crushing the olives allows greater penetration of the brine and the olives will be ready to eat in a shorter time. These green kalamata olives that I purchased called Olive King Olives have been processed like schiacciate (not that this information is included on the label), are 100% Australian grown and owned.  The olives are indeed grown and processed in Mildura: they have an excellent texture, are totally free of chemicals and taste amazing. Certainly as good, if not better than the few olives my father used to pickle in this way.

When my father was alive and when my children were very young, my dad used to get them both to help him hit the green olives gently with a brick (or meat mallet or a hammer) without crushing them completely – this was tricky.

Once the olives have been crushed, the olive stones can also be removed – this will hasten the pickling process even more so. The olives need to be placed in salted water for about 10 days (that water needs to be changed twice a day). This process will remove most of the bitterness from the olives; they will still taste slightly bitter, but this is one of their appealing qualities. The olives are then either ready to eat. They need to be drained and dressed with salt, garlic, crushed fennel seeds (or some wild fennel leaves), oregano, olive oil , fresh chilli and a dash of vinegar (optional).  If you wish to keep them for longer, place the olives in clean jars, cover with oil and keep them refrigerated. My father never made sufficient quantities to do this.

I rang the phone numbers included on the label to congratulate them. At this stage it is just a small family business. I wish them well.


This is a very simple and colourful salad, full of different flavours and it includes fennel –very prolific and in season in Australia at the moment. I always find this vegetable very refreshing and cleansing.

Capricciosa means whimsical or fanciful in Italian and the salad lives up to its name. I found this salad in a book about Sicilian recipes that I bought at a railway station. It is listed as N’ZALATA CRAPICIOSA – a misprint, surely? But capricious to the end!


This salad consists of finely sliced fennel, chopped green olives, capers and red salad onion. In Italy this type of onion is called cipolla calabrese or cipolla Tropea. The name is appropriate – it grows extensively in Calabria and is a dominant ingredient in Calabrese cooking.

Red onions do not just grow in the South of Italy, I also found fresh red onions (sold with their green tops) all over Tuscany and Rome at the end of last year. (The photo was taken in the Greve market, held each Saturday morning in the Piazza where we were staying in December 2008).

Onions, like all vegetables are seasonal. As well as using fresh onions raw in salads, Sicilians also use mature ones (those with dry skin) but usually they “sweeten” them first.

My father always did this, especially for his famous tomato salads. Raw onions are first sliced and then sprinkled with salt (some soak them in cold, salted water) for about 20 minutes – use a colander. The onions are then squeezed to remove the excess liquid and the strong flavour (my father wore his glasses for this process); he also quickly rinsed the onions at the end. 

As a variation, for colour and flavour I have used some chopped finely fennel fonds and sometimes finely chopped mint for extra zing.

For the dressing use quality extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and a dash of vinegar. Dress and toss the salad just before serving.


Olive trees have become very common in many Australian gardens. In South Australia where I used to live, olive trees grow wild and prolifically, and I miss not being able to collect and marvel at the range of shapes, sizes and tastes of olives I had for free. I used to enjoy looking at my collection of different jars of olives, collected from different trees and in different locations. I remember once finding a tiny, round olive in Botanic Park and after some research found that it was a descendant of one particular French variety introduced in very early times of Adelaide’s history.

A friend contacted me recently and suggested that I publish something on my blog about how to pickle olives. She is ready to pick hers and had looked through her collection of recipe books and was able to find many suggestions for how to marinade olives, but not how to pickle them.

There are many ways to preserve olives in all their stages of maturity – green, black and those that are turning colour from green to violet. Because I only have one small tree growing in a pot on my balcony, it is those in-between colour olives that I collect to preserve.

Water and salt seem to be a common ways to leach out the bitterness.

I place them into a crock pot after the leaching process and cover them in brine. As you can see I place a weight on top to keep them submerged and then cover them with a sturdy lid and leave them there until they are pickled.


Green olives can be soaked whole in salt water or be cut with a sharp knife across on one side or cracked with a brick (called olive schiacciate).

Very ripe black olives can be dried outdoors in the shade and then packed in jars in salt. My father placed black olives on rock salt in shallow trays with a layer of open weave made of plastic (available from the hardware and used to prevent leaves from getting into gutters) suspended close to the bottom of the trays. The juice of the olives dribbles down to the bottom of the tray (to collect the juice, he used to place newspaper there, discard and replace it regularly) and eventually the olives dry out and they can be packed in oil, fennel seeds and oregano.

Some people use ash, others place green olives in water with caustic soda – the soda preserves the firmness, but it is not environmentally friendly and not a process I favour. This method is a common procedure used in commercial pickling and can change the colour of the olive from green to black.

I have one small tree on my balcony and the easiest thing I can do is collect my small crop when my olives are turning colour from green to pink and preserve them in brine till I am ready to use them.


Submerge the olives into fresh water in a large bowl or bucket. Change the water every day for a fortnight. I place a clean plate or mesh on top to keep the olives under the surface.

The olives are now ready to be placed in jars into a strong solution of brine.

Estimate how much brine you require (salt is cheap and maybe you will waste some brine or you can measure the last lot of water you pour off the olives).

Dissolve salt in boiling water, I use about one cup of coarse rock salt to 8 cups of water. (My father used to boil the water and keep on adding salt till an egg floated on top). Allow the water to cool.

Place olives in clean jars (with good lids). I scatter some fennel seeds in between the layers and then pour the brine over them until the olives are completely submerged. Once again that gutter wire comes in handy and I cut some to size to place on top of the olives to keep them submerged. Alternatively coiled branches of dry wild fennel stalks are also effective for this purpose.

Topping up the bottles with up to one centimeter of olive oil to seal and stop air getting to the olives is not thought to be essential, I do it. Screw on the lids and store for at least 6 months in a cool place.

When you are ready eat your olives take out as many as you want, drain them and taste them. If they are too salty, soak them in fresh water, till they are ready to dress.

Unlike the Greeks, I do not use vinegar to pickle or to dress olives. Unless I am pretending to be Moroccan rather than Italian, my olives are mostly dressed very simply with extra virgin olive oil, dry oregano, bay leaves, fennel seeds and chili flakes.

******This post  was published in Mar 23, 2009 and it us still one of my most popular posts.



Having said that ‘Unlike the Greeks, I do not use vinegar to pickle or to dress olives’, check out what I have said in a post written in Jan 11, 2015


Various Ways to Pickle Olives