Olive loaf sounds like an olive-studded loaf of bread—and it can be. The other definition, however, refers to lunch meat with pimiento-stuffed olives inside, a bologna-like product most often associated with the Oscar Mayer brand that has a tendency to end up on clickbaity lists like “25 Inedibly Nasty Lunch Meat Products.” Dan Snowden, executive chef at Bad Hunter in the West Loop, says that olive loaf is “always kind of scary looking, but you kind of want to order it anyway, just to see what it tastes like.” He responded to a challenge by Ryan Pfeiffer of Blackbird to make a dish by using not only the meat product but also the bread associated with the name.
The bread was easy to acquire: Snowden says that Greg Wade of Publican Quality Breads makes one of the best olive breads he’s ever tasted. The meat loaf, on the other hand, took a little more work. “If you make a good one,” he says, “it can be pretty delicious—somewhere between mortadella and a paté.” So he did, starting with a whole pig from Slagel Farms. He brined the shoulder meat, liver, and some of the back fat in an olive brine for a couple of days, then incorporated the meat into a country-style paté with Castelvetrano olives, which he baked in a water bath.
For his dish, Snowden envisioned the flavors of puttanesca pasta sauce—especially olives—in panzanella, a traditional Italian salad of tomatoes and bread. There isn’t much traditional about Snowden’s version, though: he peeled and dehydrated tomatoes, then rehydrated them in dashi (Japanese broth made with bonito fish flakes and dried kelp) to add an umami flavor that mimics the anchovies you’d find in puttanesca. He pureed those tomatoes with chunks of olive bread, more dashi, olive oil, and red wine vinegar to make a vinaigrette; thick slices of the olive paté and thin slices of the olive bread went on the wood grill to add a smoky flavor. To those three elements he added a few spoonfuls of the rehydrated tomatoes, variously colored mustard greens tossed in olive oil, white onions braised in red wine vinegar syrup, and a sprinkling of dehydrated and pulverized tomato skins.
“Traditionally the bread is soaked in the vinaigrette,” Snowden says, “but I like the crunch that it brings.” The overall dish, he says, “tastes like the best hot dog you’ve ever had.”
Snowden has challenged A.J. Walker, chef at the new Publican Anker, to create a dish with a type of grain called Job’s tears. v