Chunky, meaty, salty olives with sweet fig jam, nutty garlic, tangy vinegar and a bit of licorice fennel – there are so many flavors going on here you will go crazy for this authentic olive spread!
Olives, roasted garlic and fig jam are the three musketeers of this traditional favorite Greek olive spread, pasta elias (πάστα ελιάς) . You can find everything you need at your local market’s antipasto bar and assemble at home or do it all on your own. Either way, this recipe is super quick and easy to make and INSANELY deliciousto eat.
Pasta elias is a rustic dish that was often made at just this time of year, when winter stores of dried fruits and preserved vegetables were bridging the gap between hearty cold weather soups and stifados (stews) and the first spring crops. Roasted garlic cloves preserved in oil, olives and dried figs were all still on hand and, spread liberally on a thick slice of toasted dark bread, pasta elias was (is!) a tasty and nutritious meal.
Of course, different regions of Greece have different versions of this dish and all are wonderful. Some use lemon juice instead of vinegar, some grated raw garlic instead of roasted, some dried apricots, sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers or capers instead of figs. Feel free to play around with a few of these other options – they really are all wonderful in their own ways!
The recipe below yields a little more than two cups of spread and is infinitely scalable. A great make-ahead choice for parties and always a good thing to have on hand for late night munchies.
Serve this on crusty dark bread, piled on grilled pita (like a pizza!), whole wheat toast or as a topping over skordalia (garlic mashed potatoes). And pasta elias has never met a sandwich it didn’t love – ok, maybe not peanut butter and jelly but who knows!
When enjoying pasta elias with wine, remember that olives can make a wine taste more bitter so try going with a lighter, fruity red or best choice a nice glass of ouzo 🙂
- 2 cups olives, mashed
- 1 tablespoon roasted garlic paste*
- 3 tablespoons fig jam (6 dried/soaked figs if making your own)**
- 1 tsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tsp fennel seeds (ground)
- 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Mash olives by hand or pulse in food processor until just slightly chunky but not complete paste and set aside.
With back of a spoon, mash roasted garlic cloves to smooth paste, mix in fig jam and set aside.
In medium bowl, combine olives, garlic and fig pastes. Mix well to incorporate all ingredients evenly. Add olive oil, vinegar and spices. Combine completely and allow to set, covered, in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to a week before serving.
*Roasting your own garlic? Yay you! Simply slice across the top of a head of garlic, rub exposed cloves with olive oil, wrap tightly in foil paper and roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Then just slide out the cloves and mash.
**Don’t want to buy a whole jar of fig jam? Soak 6-7 dried figs in a bowl of orange juice just enough to cover. Add a splash or brandy if you like, too! Soak for at least 30 minutes and as much as overnight. Then – so easy – slice each now plumped up fig in half and scoop out fruit! Soak and extra so you can eat that one yourself as a reward 🙂