Marinated Olives

Marinated Olives
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marinated black olives
Don’t eat the bay leaf!

Often, when we travel, we stop at grocery store to pick up a few things for lunch: a baguette, some cheese, mini carrots, items that we can carry with us and make a quick picnic lunch pretty much anywhere. We do this for two reasons: first, it’s much less expensive than eating lunch at a restaurant, but, the second, more important reason, is that it’s better-tasting than almost any other choice (a third reason is that it’s a lot faster, too). Hard to believe that a mediocre baguette, some pre-shredded lettuce, and a few carrots are invariably make a better lunch than most restaurants, but they do. Try it sometime and you’ll see.

Now, to get to our point, during one of our recent trips, we picked up a little tub of olives from one of those ubiquitous olive bars that proliferate in grocery stores these days. Having bought olives there for $10/pound, we know that these are some serious money makers. But, we also know the olives are tastier than the ones in jars or cans. So, the question is, can one make those cheap, not-so-good, olives in the can taste better?

Well, of course, that’s what scratchers do. They take ordinary ingredients, add a bit of work, and presto, better food! Just like magic.

For this round of magic, we modeled our recipe for marinated olives on one found in the NYT Cooking. We changed our recipe to match our tastes and to what we had on hand. Naturally, you can make either, or change it up yourself and make your own version.

Marinated Olives

Yield: 6 ounces

Marinated Olives


  • 1 can black olives
  • 2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs red wine vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 garlic clove, split in two and germ removed
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2-inch sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper

Abbreviated Instructions

Drain olives and place in a pint jar.

Combine remaining ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat and warm gently. When warm, pour over olives, close jar, and shake.

Refrigerate for 2 hours to 2 days, shaking periodically.

Remove from refrigerator to warm prior to serving.

Ingredient discussion:

can of olives
We wanted a few olives for pizza one night, so we had to figure out what to do with the leftover olives.

We bought the cheapest olives in the store. The kind that are $1 a can, figuring that if we can make these better-tasting, we’ve got a winning recipe. The spices and herbs listed are the ones we’ve used, but change them as you see fit. We will say that we did use a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil to add flavor.

Procedure in detail:

Drain olives. We just open the can, leaving part of the lid attached, and pour the liquid down the sink, shaking the can around to make sure all the liquid drains away. Then, open the can the rest of the way and dump the olives into a pint jar. We suggest using a glass jar and not plastic, as it’s non-reactive.

making olive marinade
Just warm everything together. Not hot, just warm to the touch.

Warm marinade. Right up front we want to say that you don’t want the olive oil to simmer. Heating olive oil eliminates the flavor, and what would be the point in that? So, place all the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan, stir to combine, and place over low heat to warm. Stay right there because you’ll smell the vinegar when it’s warm.

marinading olives
Two hours to two days, or longer; it doesn’t take much to make better-tasting olives.

Marinade. Pour the marinade over the olives, and stick the rosemary and bay leaves in the jar, too. Cover and give everything a shake. Now another shake. Place in the refrigerator, and, periodically, give it a shake. The oil will solidify, so you might just be shaking around the vinegar with spices, but that’s fine. Let the olives marinade for anywhere from 2 hours to a couple of days.

Serve. Since the olive oil solidifies, take the jar out of the fridge so everything can warm before serving. And, of course, give it a shake before extracting the olives, and feel free to put the bay leaves or rosemary in the olive bowl as a nice-looking touch.

A total of five minutes and a single pan to wash; what’s not to like? And, they do taste better, much better, perhaps even as good as those olives that have sat in the tubs at the olive bars. An easy five stars.

Worth the trouble?

2 Replies to “Marinated Olives”

  1. Great idea! Here’s the rub that I bump into when similarly scratching out a picnic…. grocery store baguettes. The bigger grocery chains often have decent looking baguettes, but run a knife through them and they crumble into piles of sawdust. I can’t even comprehend how they achieve such way-worse-than-mediocre quality. Bad bread kills this meal. So, if you’re traveling, I’d strongly recommend scouting the local bakeries, french or otherwise, for that baguette unless you know and trust the local (sic) grocery store. It’s worth the premium. Heck, you may also find a great deal on delicious (and maybe slightly al dente) “day old” bread there and perhaps even a sweet bite for dessert. Finding good bread may not be an easy quest, but it’s a rewarding one. My humbly submitted advice….Don’t put your delicious scratched olives on anything less.

    1. Truer words have never been spoken. The bread in the grocery (even baked in house) is often abysmal. Thanks for the reminder about seeking out bread; the search for a local bakery can be part of the fun in vacationing.


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