Olive paste is a smooth puree made from ground olives. There are a wide range of uses for this condiment, and it is a frequent feature in Mediterranean kitchens as a result. Many delis and markets carry it, and it is also possible to make it at home. Cooks who make their own can control the ingredients to create a specific desired flavor, and they can also ensure that it is as fresh as possible, since it can get acrid and bitter if allowed to sit too long.
To make olive paste, olives are pitted and then ground up. Although any type of olive can be made into paste, brined varieties tend to be favored. A small amount of olive oil is usually added to lubricate the paste as it is ground, and to strengthen the olive flavor. The paste can also be blended with herbs, and many people add garlic for a spicy flavor; garlic also happens to be a good preservative. Shoppers may find packaged versions with other brined or pickled ingredients, which can transform it into a hot or sweet dish, depending on the elements used.
Many regions have their own version of olive paste, like olivada and tapenade. It is often taken on picnics and used as a spread, pairing well with a number of breads. This puree can also be laid out on a buffet, paired with crackers, breads, or even vegetables and used as a dip. It can inject a rich olive taste into stocks and sauces, and it may be used as a garnish on some foods as well.
As a general rule, this puree is best when it has been allowed to mellow and marinate for around 24 hours. This allows the flavors to mingle, creating a smoothly blended flavor. If it sits too long, however, it can start to get bitter or acidic, developing strange and unpleasant flavors. Canned products are usually pasteurized and stabilized to prevent this.
Consumers may want to buy olive paste in a deli, as the staff will usually allow shoppers to sample it first. The pastes can come in quite an array of flavors, so it's a good idea for shoppers to know what they are getting into, as no one wants to be unpleasantly surprised by the flavors. If it isn't possible to taste it first, consumers should read the package and try to use the ingredients to gauge whether it will be sweet, spicy, or strongly herbal. This product goes especially well with a wide array of cheeses.