Olive, I love an olive bar. Of all the innovations in supermarket food bars, the olive bar is the one I can’t resist.
Remember when the best olives you could find in a supermarket were all stuffed with pimentos and packed in jars? If you wanted good olives – meaty, tasty, mouth-filling olives – you had to find a Middle Eastern market or pay up at a gourmet store. Now you can stroll through almost any supermarket and fill a plastic tub with Kalamatas, Nicoises, Picholines and those vivid green and buttery Castelvetranos.
Of all the olive bars, the one that draws me like a siren to the rocks is at Whole Foods. It even has square boxes with four spaces, so you can keep your olives separate. You can also add things that aren’t olives but play well with them: Sweet pappadew peppers and my favorite, Drunken Tomatoes – cherry tomatoes and onions in a marinade of vinegar and red wine.
To throw together a fast dinner, I picked up a selection of pitted olives, a couple of pappadew peppers, a half-cup of the Drunken Tomatoes and looked for a few things to go with them: fresh angel-hair pasta and a tub of crumbled feta. In the prepared-food case at the deli, I snagged a single grilled chicken breast, not cheap at $11.99 a pound, but plenty to make dinner for three. With so much flavor from the olives, you could skip the chicken, use leftover grilled chicken or substitute cooked shrimp.
Olive Salsa Pasta with Chicken and Feta Sauce
Roughly chop about 8 ounces mixed pitted olives, 2 or 3 pappadew peppers and a cup of Drunken Tomatoes, then put them in a bowl with all the juices from the tomatoes and 1 tablespoon olive oil, then let them stand while you make the pasta. (If the olives aren’t pitted, smash them with the flat side of a wide knife and pick out the pits.)
Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Warm about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cut the cooked chicken breast into long, wide strips and add it to the skillet. Since it’s cooked, you just want to warm it up a little.
Add the package of fresh angel-hair pasta to the boiling water. If you use fresh pasta, cook it 2 minutes; if you use dried pasta, follow the package directions. Use tongs or a pasta spoon to pull the pasta from the water and add it to the skillet with the chicken. Add about 1/2 cup crumbled feta, then use a ladle to splash in about a 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water. Toss it all around to let the feta melt into a sauce.
Add the olives and tomatoes to the pasta, toss to mix it and serve.
Yield: 2 to 3 servings.