Steve was inspired to reinvestigate Alice Waters’s renowned “warm olives with thyme” recipe in The Art of Simple Food when he sipped his first Vesper cocktail. So after taste-testing her recipe side-by-side with this classic drink, he decided to toss in a few more ingredients to her mix, and lower the Vesper’s alcohol content by using less gin.
His additions worked magic. Warmed ever so gently in a bath of herbs and spices, these olives deliver a punch of flavor thanks to the interplay of thyme, cumin, and red pepper flakes. They’re addictive on their own. But paired with a cocktail like the Vesper [SEE RECIPE BELOW], or a Martini if you feel so inclined, the hint of citrus infused in the warmed olive oil brings all the flavors together and makes for a piquant pairing with strong drinks.
And the most beautiful thing about this recipe is its ease. In the minutes it takes to meld all the flavors, you can stir up some trouble at the bar and mix some ice-cold cocktails. The olives will be ready as your guests raise a toast.
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)
1 1/2 cups mixed olives
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, quartered
3 sprigs thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
citrus peel (lemon or orange, or both)
Rinse olives thoroughly, drain, and let dry. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium–low heat. Add all the ingredients and mix until coated with oil. Warm for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Pairing Warmed Olives with cocktails seems easy at the outset, but olives have a way of making sweet cocktails taste, well, not so good. Our advice: Stick with savory cocktails, and those employing gin or vodka as their base. Our favorite is the Vesper, made famous by Ian Fleming in Casino Royale, his first James Bond 007 book. Gin is the main ingredient, followed by vodka, then Lillet blanc, a winy, lightly herbal quinquina (an aperitif that has quinine as an ingredient). If you use a variety of olives, you’ll notice that each one brings out a different flavor note in the cocktail. Your taste buds will thank you.
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)
2 ounces gin (Plymouth is a good gin to start with)
1 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce Lillet blanc
orange peel, for garnish
Stir in ice for 30 seconds. Strain into well chilled cocktail glass. Add orange peel.
A Note on the Twist
For the Vesper, we like to take a firm orange and use a standard vegetable peeler to get a nice wide garnish for the cocktail. Make sure to peel the orange over the Vesper to impart the oils from its rind. Lemon works just as well if you don’t have any oranges handy.
photos © Steve Schul, Cocktail Buzz