Stuffed and Fried Ascolana Olives (Olive all'ascolana)

Olive all'ascolana
Olive all'ascolana. Fabio Bianchini/Getty Images
  • 90 mins
  • Prep: 45 mins,
  • Cook: 45 mins
  • Yield: About 60 olives (60 servings)
Ratings (16)

These meat-stuffed, breaded and fried olives are a typical specialty originating circa 1800 in Ascoli Piceno in central Italy's Marche region. Allegedly they were invented by the cooks of wealthy families as a way to utilize meat leftover from abundant feasts. Each olive is painstakingly cut away from its pit in a spiral shape, then reformed around the stuffing: a combination of several types of meat (usually veal or beef, pork, and chicken), sauteed with a soffritto, stewed in white wine, ground, and mixed with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a touch of nutmeg. As usual, the different versions of the recipe are countless, and along coastal areas of the Marche, sometimes the filling is made with several types of fish. 

Today these stuffed olives are popular throughout Italy, and often served as street food in paper cones at fairs, together with other fried foods as part of a "fritto misto," or with other light bites as a before-dinner aperitivo. I'm not going to lie -- they're a bit time-consuming to make (though you can shave a great deal of time and effort off by using pre-pitted olives -- there's even -- though it's quite pricey -- a device created especially for pitting olives to make olive all'ascolana) and so are often reserved for holidays or other special occasions.

Traditionally they are made with the large, green, mild "Ascolana Tenera" variety of olive (Oliva Ascolana del Piceno), a DOP product, but as those may be difficult to find in some places, you can use any large, mild, brine-cured green olive (again, using prepitted olives makes the entire process much easier).

It's one of those "una tira l'altra" foods -- an Italian idiomatic expression that translates literally as "one pulls another," meaning: "You can't eat just one." 

They make a great aperitivo snack with a glass of chilled prosecco or rosé (perhaps a Cirò Rosato) -- or your favorite aperitivo drink -- and are a wonderful finger food for cocktail parties.

What You'll Need

  • 1 pound green Ascolane olives (drained and rinsed brine-cured)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion (finely diced)
  • 1 stalk celery (finely diced)
  • 1 carrot (finely diced)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 14 ounces lean beef or veal (finely diced)
  • 5 ounces lean pork (finely diced)
  • 2 ounces chicken breast (finely diced)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 egg yolks (lightly beaten)
  • 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano (freshly grated)
  • Freshly grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Pinch black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs (lightly beaten)
  • 2 1/2 cups bread crumbs (fine)
  • 2-3 cups frying oil (peanut or other high-smoke point oil)

How to Make It

Using a sharp paring knife, carefully cut the flesh away from the pit of each olive in a spiral shape (similar to peeling an apple in a spiral). Remove and discard the pits and set the spiral-shaped pieces of olive aside while you prepare the filling. Skip this step, obviously, if you are using pre-pitted olives.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the diced onion, carrot and celery and saute until onion is translucent and vegetables are softened, 6-8 minutes.

Add the white wine and cook for 1 minute. Add the diced meats and salt continue to cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until meat is cooked, about 10-15 minutes. 

Puree the mixture in a meat grinder or food processor, then transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the egg yolks, Parmigiano, lemon zest, nutmeg and pepper. Stir to combine all ingredients well. Then take small pinches of the filling and wrap an olive spiral around each one, reforming it to its original olive shape, pressing slightly so that the filling holds the olive together. (If you are using pre-pitted olives, this step is much easier -- you can use a pastry bag with a fine tip to fill the olives with stuffing).

Roll each stuffed olive in the flour, dip in the beaten egg, and then roll in the bread crumbs. The stuffed olives should be only slightly larger than their original size. Don't overstuff, or they won't hold together. (At this point, you can either fry the olives immediately or store them in the refrigerator or freezer until you're ready to fry them.)

Heat the frying oil in a large heavy-bottomed, high-sided pot until hot, but not smoking, and fry the breaded olives in batches (do not try to fry too many olives at a time, or it will lower the temperature of the cooking oil and they will not brown evenly or cook properly). When olives are evenly golden brown, remove the olives from the frying oil using a perforated metal spoon or mesh skimmer. Drain briefly on a paper towel-lined platter or tray and serve while still hot, with lemon wedges.