Friday’s food: Olive oil

A bottle of olive oil ready for your enjoyment

Central to the Mediterranean diet/style of eating, this luscious liquid has graced the tables of many of history’s notables such as Plato, Aristotle, Julius Caesar and Christ.  Pretty good company.

Records dating back as far as five thousand years ago in Crete show that olive oil has been enjoyed by countless millions throughout the centuries in that area of the world.  Ancient crushing and production methods are still used today near areas with modern plants to produce high quality oils with Greece, Italy, southern France, Spain and Portugal (and now also in California) all vying for first position.

Traditionally, olives are beaten off the tree limbs onto sheets spread on the ground.  They are then taken to a press where they are crushed and the oil is extracted.  The oil is classified in the USA as:

Extra Virgin: first pressing without heat/steam – up to 1% acidity
Superfine Virgin: first pressing without heat/steam – 1 – 1 1/2% acidity
Fine Virgin: first pressing without  heat/steam – up to 3% acidity
Virgin: first pressing without heat/steam – between 3% and 4% acidity
Pure olive oil or olive oil:  this could be any of a number of things – the olives did not have to be top quality, it could be a blend of various grades, and it could be the result of steam/heat used in a second pressing to extract the last bits of oil.

Light” “extra light” have nothing to do with fat content or calories…those terms refer to the taste of the oil.  It means that all the potential goodness of this monounsaturated oil has been removed.    Here’s some nutritional information.   These oils are useful for frying and other cooking uses but still should not be used for deep frying or high temperature cooking because of the low smoke point.  So while you can certainly cook foods with them, expect smoke if you like to really crank up the heat.

People who love olive oil often like the ones with a more assertive flavor such as those from Tuscany, Italy.  The French one is milder while the Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, Tunisian and Californian are somewhere in the middle.  For best taste, drizzle it on food just as it is served.  Want to use it but not crazy about the taste?  Mix it 50/50 with unsalted butter or another oil and gradually increase the amount of olive oil while you decrease the proportionate amount of other fat.

This oil can go rancid fairly quickly – especially the more expensive, better quality ones (of course!).  To get around this, you can buy really good quality oil in small bottles, or poke a hole in a pure vitamin E capsule and squeeze it into the bottle of oil (E is an antioxidant – helps to preserve).  You can also pour the oil into a wide mouthed container and store it in the fridge.  It will get a little solid, but returns to liquid quickly at room temperature.

No-Mayo Potato Salad
A delicious version for those who don’t like or can’t eat mayonnaise – quantity for 1 serving (potato is about the size of your hand).
Best served room temperature and improves overnight – zap a few seconds in microwave to reheat.

1 potato, 1/2 tennis ball sized onion, vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, chopped parsley, salt and pepper to taste.

Chop the onion into small dice or slice very thinly.  Place in a bowl.  Either by microwave or by boiling, cook a whole unpeeled potato till a knife inserted comes out easily.  Stab the hot potato in one end with a fork and use the fork to hold potato while scraping off the skin (if organic, do not peel) and cut into slices about 1/2” thick.  Add to bowl.  Add about 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with vinegar, salt, pepper and toss well.  Taste and add more oil or vinegar if necessary.  The potato will soak up just about all the vinegar and oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and let cool, adjust salt/pepper if necessary and sprinkle with parsley.

Mozzarella & Tomato Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
The sweet sour balsamic kick really perks up this classic dish – quantities are for 1 serving.

1 ripe and flavorful tomato, 1/2 tomato sized quantity of fresh mozzarella, 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, Italian seasonings and Parmesan cheese to taste, salt, coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Wash and core tomato.  Slice crosswise into 4 or 5 slices.  If using 1 large ball of cheese, slice into 4 or 5 slices.  If using mini cheese balls, leave whole.  Combine the vinegar, olive oil, and seasonings in a small bowl and whisk together with a fork.  Taste and add salt if needed.  Layer alternating slices of tomato and mozzarella (or arrange tomato slices and decorate with small cheese balls).  Drizzle tomato and cheese with dressing.  Top with a few grinds of black pepper and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Image attribution

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