Olives, and especially olive oil, play a huge part in Italian cuisine. That's on the savory side. I have to admit that except for making cakes with olive oil, olives and pastries were a combination I had never thought of before. That was until my friends from Salento introduced me to Massimo and Andrea who have invented a sweet product using the ubiquitous Pugliese olives. The product is Olivotto, made with the black cellina olives that grow in the Salento region.
Like most great culinary inventions or recipes, Olivotto came about by accident. Massimo's young son had stained his hands from the olive's juice. His son mistook the purple stain as one from amarena (dark sour cherries, usually preserved in a sugar syrup). That's when a light went on in Massimo. Surrounded in Salento by almost endless groves of olive trees (Puglia produces over 40% of Italy's olive oil), yet no one had ever thought of using this fruit for pastry making. Massimo and his friend Andrea, who was then the chef for the restaurant at the swanky Patria Palace Hotel in Lecce, put there heads together to create Olivotto.
Olivotto comes in three variations. The crema dolce, meaning sweet cream, can be used as a base flavor in pastry making. Similarly to how one uses other fruits, nuts and chocolate, one would use it to flavor creams (pastry, Bavarian, Anglese, Chantilly, etc), doughs, cakes, sauces, candies and gelato, just to name a few. The dressing could be a finishing touch to dress desserts, used like a marmelade in a crostata or cookie, in chocolate making, and even paired with cheese. Finally there is the Perle Noire (black pearl). The black pearls are whole, pitted olives in a sweet syrup. They could dress the top of any Olivotto dessert beautifully, or stud the inside of breads, brioche and cakes.
Make no mistake, all three variations are sweet, not overly, but they are sweet and produced with natural ingredients. The dressing is the sweetest of the three. The dark purple color is also natural and brings an interesting color to all pastries Olivotto touches. In fact, the Cellina olive is the only olive that is black naturally; the others turn black due to chemical oxidation. Each of the desserts we tried had light olive notes throughout. You taste the savory side of the olive at the finish; something that balances things nicely.
We met Massimo and Andrea at Bar Castello in the Grecia Salentina (a part of Salento where a Greek dialect is still spoken and street and store signs are in both Greek and Italian). Angelo, the chef and owner of Bar Castello was the first person in Salento to offer Olivotto products and use the products in his pastries. In the bar's kitchen the talented pastry cooks, Vladimiro & Carmin, wowed us by making one delicious dessert after another with Olivotto.
They made the region's famous pasticciotto pastry with pastry cream flavored with Olivotto - giving it a bright purple color. Instead of chocolate covered cherries, we tasted chocolate covered olives; the dressing and a black pearl were covered in chocolate. There was purple pandolivotto - panettone made with the crema dolce and studded with the black pearl olives. I don't normally like panettone. I find it too dry, but the Olivotto cream gave the cake a moister texture that changed my mind about the Italian Christmas bread. They flavored marzipan and cream chantilly with Olivotto. And of course, there was gelato flavored with Olivotto.
In Salento, Olivotto is already a popular name, and you can find it in many pastry shops, food shops, and at Lecce's Farmers' Market. Chef Heinz Beck is using Olivotto at the three-Michelin starred Restaurant La Pergola in Rome. You can find Olivotto in London, at Harrod's, and at some stores in France. Rumor has it that Pierre Herme in Paris might be baking up something with Olivotto - maybe a macaron/Olivotto combination. Massimo and Andrea are still looking for distribution in the U.S., where I think the Pandolivotto would be a huge hit, especially around Christmas. One thing is certain, Olivotto makes my must-buy list for foodie souvenirs from Salento.
Join me in Puglia in 2013! For this food lover's culinary tour, we'll be cooking with our beautiful Italian mamme and professional chefs. We'll also be eating and exploring our way through the region.
For tour details, check out this page: Food Lover's Culinary Tour in Puglia
Pandiolivotto - Olivotto flavored panettone (photo courtesy Olivotto)