‘Tis the season of getting together.  From a small dinners, to holiday parties, to neighbors stopping by for a chat, you never know when an occasion will arise.  I like to be prepared with a few ready-made foods that I can put out, or quickly put into a small mason jar with a bow for a holiday gift.

Homemade spiced nuts, hummus and vegetable dippers or an herbed goat cheese ball are some of my go-to, must-have-on-hand holiday foods.  But this year I have something new to add to my mix – Citrus Spiced Olives.

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We are lucky to have such availability of olives in our markets.  Greek, Spanish, Kalamata…much of an olive’s unique flavor comes from how it is processed.  But texture and colors of black, rosy browns and varying degrees of muted to bright greens, also depend on the processing as well as the olive variety, region in which its grown and whether it was picked unripe or more mature.

Combining the zesty flavors of olives with complements of lemon and orange contrasted with rosemary, garlic and the unforgettable heat of red pepper flakes makes this dish a standout. Each olive offering a unique colorful bite …like a candy dish of sensational flavor.

But olives are much healthier than the traditional holiday candy.  Each olive is a bite of anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer support.  And, specific phytonutrients in olives seem to help maintain bone mass.

In The Mediterranean Diet, the olive gets a lot of attention for it’s contribution to decreased risk of osteoporosis to reduced risk of cardiovascular risk.  Containing lots of monounsaturated fat along with essential fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids, eating olives without eating too much total fat has been shown to decrease total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and LDL:HDL ratio…all beneficial to heart health.

There are lots of reasons to love olives, and everyone will love Citrus Spiced Olives.

Citrus Spiced Olives

The unique bright greens, muted browns and solid black colors, variety of sizes and buttery flavor make each olive a bite-sized sensation of citrus, spicy heat and savory herbs.

2 cups mixed olives, pitted or unpitted
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 ½ teaspoons crushed red pepper
1 large sprig of rosemary (optional)
1 bay leaf (optional)
2 teaspoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons orange juice
Fresh black pepper to taste

Warm a medium sized sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the olive oil, garlic crushed red pepper flakes, and herbs if desired.  Heat for a minute or until just before the garlic browns.  Stir in the olives, lemon zest, orange juice and fresh ground pepper.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  Using a slotted spoon, lift the olives from the liquid and serve at room temperature with crusty bread and shaved Parmesan cheese.