10 October 2010

Cooking with olives

Yesterday I made meatballs. Not just any kind, but with veal and olives. The idea was a recipe I posted about before, a Corsican specialty called Veau aux olives — veal cooked with olives. In a tomato sauce. I don't know if people cook with olives in the U.S., but they do in France. Duck with olives, for example, is a classic.

I felt like making meatballs. I had bought a veal shoulder roast, boneless, all rolled and and bardé (wrapped in strips of pork fat) and tied up with string. I buy those whenever they go on sale at the supermarket, which is two or three times a year.

A meatball mixture using ground veal,
smoked pork, and chopped green olives

This time, I cut away the string, cut the veal into cubes, and included the bardes de lard gras, the strips of fat. I also added 200 grams of smoked pork lardons and Walt put all that meat through the grinder together while I chopped the onions and olives.

You can see the olive mince in the meat mixture.

The Corsican recipe calls for veal for stew plus lardons, so I was using all the right ingredients while changing the presentation and the method. And then it occurred to me that instead of following the recipe and putting both whole green and whole black olives into the tomato sauce (with garlic, onions, thyme, and rosemary) that the meatballs would cook in, I could chop up the pitted green olives I had in the refrigerator and add the olive mince to the meatball mixture.

The meatballs ready to go in the oven for browning

That's what I did, adding some chopped onion, mashed garlic, black pepper, hot red pepper flakes, and egg yolks too. Oh, and some cooked rice I happened to have in the fridge, and a small handful of dry breadcrumbs (we make breadcrumbs with the "dead bread" we always seem to have around — odd pieces of dried-out baguettes).

The result — save the fat but don't put it in the tomato sauce

We are really into roasting things in the oven these days. Like the meatballs, for instance. Place them on a silicone pad on a baking sheet, drizzle some olive oil over them, and put them in a hot oven. There they will brown, and you hardly have to watch them at all — much less worry about turning them over and over in a frying pan, spattering the whole kitchen with grease, and ending up with meatball crumbs. As they roast, the meatballs will release most of the fat they contain.

Here's a recipe for the Boulettes de veau et lardons aux olives that you see in the pictures here. I know this recipe would be good made with ground turkey, which is easy to get in America but not so easy in France.

Veal and smoked pork meatballs with olives

For the meatballs:
1¾ lbs. ground veal
6 oz. smoked pork lardons (bacon)
1 small onion, diced hot red pepper flakes (to taste)
breadcrumbs abd/or cooked rice (1 cup total)
¼ lb. pitted green olives, minced (½ to ¾ cup)
3 egg yolks (or 2 whole eggs)
black pepper

For the sauce:
1 small onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 or 5 ripe tomatoes
3 sprigs of thyme
3 sprigs of rosemary
2 Tbsp. olive oil
½ cup white wine
12 dried shitake (or other) mushrooms
salt and pepper
¼ lb. black olives (¾ cup)

Make the meatballs by combining all the ingredients and mixing them together well. If you are grinding the meat yourself, run the smoked pork through the grinder with the veal. Otherwise, dice it up finely with a knife. It goes in raw.

Add very little salt to the mixture, if any, because the olives and bacon will be salty enough. Form 1-inch meatballs. Brown them in a pan on top of the stove, or on a silicone pad (or parchment paper) in a hot oven.

Make the sauce by sautéing onion and garlic in olive oil until it just starts to brown. Then cut up the tomatoes and add them and their juice to the pan with the herbs, white wine, mushrooms, and salt (sparingly) and pepper. Cook the sauce at medium heat while the meatballs are browning. Add water as needed.

Add the browned meatballs to the sauce and cook on low heat for 30 to 60 minutes. Ten minutes before you plan to serve and eat the meatballs, add the black olives to the sauce. They will plump up and add saltiness to the finished dish.

Serve with pasta and a green salad dressed with vinaigrette.
Here's a link to a similar Veau aux olives recipe I made about
18 months ago.


  1. This sounds delicious, Ken. I'm marking it to try when I'm home in my own kitchen.

  2. cela a l'air delicieux, bien sûr! vous pouvez egalement faire du lapin aux olives, avec des herbes de Provence.

  3. Oui, Yveline, le lapin, le canard, le veau aux olives. Miam miam.

    Chris, you must be in Provence. Hope you are enjoying it -- though from what I've seen on TV, the weather down there leaves a lot to be desired right now. Beautiful here, but cool...

  4. This looks very interesting, and I've really never cooked with olives in this way. I'm wondering, since my son is vegetarian (but will eat dairy and egg products) if I can find a way to do this with the soy based crumbles I get for him...The sauce is strongly flavored, I think, and it might work.

    New ideas!

  5. You've mentioned the silicone pads before. I've not used them but wonder how they work. And can they be washed, or what do you do with them afterwards?

    The meatballs look absolutely delish. Olives, yum.

  6. Ken

    I make a mean veal turkey burger with olives :-)

  7. Bonjour Cousine,
    Did you have any olive trees around when you grew up?

  8. I am so excited in making this recipe. The photos left a very good impression on me. I am really making these.

  9. Bonjour Cher Cousin,

    Malheureusement non. This is a question that hubby keeps asking, as recently as yesterday during lunch time. The west coast would be a good area ( climate similar to La Corse ). My response, may be one day when he retires we can move there to start an Olive farm :-)


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?