Attend a festival in Le Marche, and you may sample one of the greatest snacks you’ll ever have: olive all’ascolana. Crisp-coated, salty fried olives stuffed with a rich meat filling are a culinary marvel of taste and texture that originated in the town of Ascoli Piceno. We just had to try making these delightful bites, but we suspected it might be a challenge—after all, we’d have to figure out how to pit and stuff an olive! We tried starting with pitted olives as a short-cut, but found them lacking in color, texture, and overall olive flavor. Instead we used large, mild-flavored Cerignola olives, which are easy to find in delis and prepared food places. To remove the pits, we left the olive flesh in one piece, slicing down one side of the olive and cutting around the pit with a paring knife as if we were peeling an apple. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the process went quickly after we got used to pitting the first few. With these olives, the filling shares the spotlight, and we found a lot of impractical recipes calling for a menagerie of meat scraps or specialty cuts. We started with ground pork; while uninspiring by itself, additions of prosciutto, sautéed carrot, and shallot built beautiful layers of flavor. A little nutmeg provided the classic warm spice and aroma, while wine added brightness. One large yolk and Parmigiano gave the filling richness and a creamy texture. We prefer to use Cerignola olives, but other large brine-cured green olives will work, too. To allow for practice, the recipe calls for extra olives.
Tasting Italy: A Culinary Journey
by America's Test Kitchen and National Geographic
1 Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add carrot, shallot, salt, and pepper and cook until softened and lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add pork and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until browned, about 4 minutes. Stir in prosciutto and nutmeg and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in wine and cook until nearly evaporated, about 1 minute. Process pork mixture in food processor until smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add Parmigiano, egg yolk, and lemon zest and pulse to combine, about 5 pulses. Transfer filling to bowl and let cool slightly. (Filling can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
2 Working with 1 olive at a time, use paring knife to cut lengthwise down one side of pit (do not cut through olive). Continue to cut around pit until released, rotating olive as needed and keeping as much of olive intact as possible. Spoon scant 1 teaspoon filling into each olive (olives should be full but not overflowing), then close sides around filling, gently squeezing to seal.
3 Line rimmed baking sheet with triple layer of paper towels. Process panko in clean food processor to fine crumbs, about 20 seconds; transfer to shallow dish. Spread flour in second shallow dish. Beat eggs in third shallow dish. Working with several olives at a time, dredge in flour, dip in egg, and coat with panko, pressing firmly to adhere. Transfer to large plate and let sit for 5 minutes.
4 Heat remaining 3 cups oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. Add half of olives and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes. Using wire skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer olives to prepared sheet and let drain. Return oil to 375 degrees and repeat with remaining olives. Serve.
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Excerpted from Tasting Italy: A Culinary Journey by America's Test Kitchen, Eugenia Bone and Julia Della Croce. Copyright 2018 National Geographic.
On each episode of The Splendid Table we visit with the test cooks at America’s Test Kitchen to discuss a wide range of topics including recipes, ingredients, techniques and kitchen equipment.