Corn Meets Its MatchCaramelized Olives Reval A Whole New Dimension To Cornbread
If you’re having people over for drinks this month, it would be a good idea to serve them cornbread with caramelized olives. If you’re taxed with giving breakfast to gluten-sensitive house guests, pacify them with more of the same. If serving lunch, construct the menu around caramelized olive cornbread and relax. By now it should be obvious that if you want everyone, even total strangers, to love you, all you have to do is pop a bit of this elemental food in their mouths. What’s more, you can make it in August, using just-picked sweetcorn, or you can make it after the harvest is over, omitting the corn.
If the idea of combining cornbread with caramelized olives is new to you, that’s because I invented it. I started with a standard cornbread recipe by the excellent Anglo-Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi. Then I changed it in ways large and small, most significantly by tossing in a generous quantity of slivered Castelvetrano olives which I immersed in a quantity of mild-tasting honey. That simple addition heightens and transforms the texture and flavor of the loaf in an alchemical way. The olives’ salt and oil permeate the cornmeal and mingle with the natural sugars in the honey, which caramelize in the oven. The result is a salty-sweet quick bread that is marvelous with cocktails or Prosecco. Although I like it best on its own, it’s also a fine landing for tapenade or goat cheese with purple figs. It’s even better the next day, toasted and buttered and topped with salmon caviar or a hillock of scrambled eggs.
Although you can use any olives, the Castelvetrano variety are ideal because they’re not too salty and they retain their vibrant green hue after baking. And if anyone should ask what Italian olives are doing in cornbread, explain to them that cornbread appears in one form or another on tables throughout the Mediterranean. It’s not quite like southern cornbread, no, but then again, cornbread with caramelized olives isn’t your ordinary cornbread.
CARAMELIZED OLIVE CORNBREAD
(Makes two small loaves)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour (I like the Arrowhead Mills brand.)
½ cup instant polenta
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ cup corn kernels, (about one ear, if using fresh corn)
3 tablespoons raw sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 eggs, yolks and whites separated, at room temperature
2 tablespoons runny honey
1 cup Castelvetrano olives, pitted, smashed, and roughly chopped
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line two mini-loaf pans with baking parchment. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, polenta, corn, baking powder, a good pinch of salt and fresh-cracked black pepper. In a second bowl, coat the olives with the honey and add them to the dry ingredients, taking care to evenly incorporate the olives. Melt the butter in a small pan. When it just begins to turn nut-brown, turn off the heat and let the butter cool. In another bowl, combine the coconut milk, egg yolks, and brown butter. Stir well, then add this mixture to the olive-flour mixture. (Do this gently if you’re not using gluten-free flour). Beat the egg whites in an electric mixer until stiff peaks form, then fold them into the cornbread. Divide the batter between the two loaf pans and bake in the oven for about seventeen to twenty minutes until the top of the loaves are golden brown and spring back lightly when you touch them. Remove the loaves from the oven, wait ten minutes, then run a butter knife around the inner edge of the pans and turn the loaves out on to a cooling rack.