How recipes come into being in real life.

I was watching an old “Real Housewives of New Jersey” set during a family Christmas at the Manzo house and heard the charming story of how Caroline Manzo’s father concocted a special dish from pantry staples one night when the family had little to eat: an olive sauce for pasta that has since become a Christmas Eve standard. Just as I was getting ready to check the Web site to see if the recipe was online, Caroline let slip that her father had never revealed the recipe and she wasn’t going to, either. The only thing I got was that it contained olives and fresh fennel (or at least I saw her slicing fennel).

It so happens that, for a catering thing I did a while ago, I had purchased a can of sliced black olives the size of a jam kettle and had been vainly trying to use up the leftovers for weeks. Also, there were some mozzarella-stuffed raviolis in the fridge; I’d bought a twin package of them at Costco and didn’t like them much. The second half was aging gracefully in its vacuum-packed container.


Olive sauce! Potent enough to overpower the pasta I found less than impressive. Later in the day, I leapt online again and found several olive sauce recipes for pasta, none of which appealed just as they were (even though one came from Jamie Oliver and another from Mario Batali — who do I think I am?). So I stole elements from each and this is what I created.

Olive sauce

2-3 cups stoned green, black or kalamata olives

1/2-3/4 cup minced fresh herbs (flat-leaf parsley, oregano, marjoram, mint, basil)

2 cups roughly chopped and drained whole tomatoes

1 fennel bulb or 1 celery heart, roughly chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 small, hot red peppers, seeded and minced  (I used Thai bird)

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Black pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse a few times, taste. Do not overprocess to a paste; the sauce should have some texture. Allow the sauce to season at room temperature for at least one-half hour. Use on fresh pasta of your choice or serve over grilled fish.

Ultimate accolade: Husband said, “I could eat a bowl of the sauce without the pasta.” And later, “I want the whole thing for breakfast in the morning.” And all from stuff we had in the house.