Dining In

Olive Oil for All of Your Needs

By Nancy Finch, Food Columnist   

Sometimes I am truly startled at how various foods have changed. As I gazed at about 50 kinds of olive oil in a specialty food store, I was struck with the vast change in this latest “trendy” explosion. It has probably been going on for some time and I just was not “with it.”

I guess we first caught the trend when we were served little bowls of very tasty olive oil with our dense, crusty bread in some restaurants. I dipped and I liked — a lot. Much more interesting than the usual butter.

The selection in the store with the wide variety of colors, labels and bottle shapes and sizes was much like selecting a bottle of wine. But why is one bottle $15 and another, bigger bottle, $5 or $6?

Time of harvest, the olive type, weather and the region of origin contribute to the taste of olive oil and, like wine, to the price. Some fine oils from Tuscany, Southern Italy or Catalonia in Spain have a peppery finish. Some have a fruity flavor. These nuances affect the range of prices for olive oil.

And why use olive oil — instead of corn, soy or canola oil?

As for “why” olive oil, several characteristics make it attractive for some uses over other oils. First, of course, is the flavor. Dipping bread in corn oil would not be tasty. Also, olive oil, authorities say, tends to make baked goods stay moist-textured longer. Nutrition-wise, olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat — the “good fat” that reduces LDL (the bad cholesterol) levels.

Interestingly, a few years ago, Colavita, an olive oil producer, prepared a cookbook, Cooking with Olive Oil American Style. The book assumed that many Americans are uncertain how to use olive oil and whether it can be used in favorite recipes. The book’s recipes show how to use olive oil in daily American cooking.

The tips include, if you are substituting olive oil for butter or margarine, use less. A cup of butter or margarine would be replaced with 3⁄4 cup of olive oil. As a guideline, olive oil can be substituted for butter or margarine in all recipes except those where the butter flavor is important, such as pound cake or Hollandaise sauce.

For frying or sautéing, olive oil works well. But at high heat, olive oil loses its flavor. Thus sauté garlic or onion at a low temperature to retain the olive oil taste.

Olive oil is an essential ingredient in some recipes such as Caesar salad. This treatment of Caesar salad — especially the croutons — is a delicious combination. Fresh green beans become much more distinctive when seasoned with olive oil. This is a nifty method of cooking green beans.

Green Beans with Lemon Zest and Parsley

Ingredients:

 

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1⁄4 cup slivered almonds

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1 lb. green beans, stem-end trimmed and halved

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1⁄3 cup water

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4 t extra virgin olive oil

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1⁄4 t salt

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1⁄2 t finely grated lemon peel

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2 T minced fresh parsley

Directions: Heat a skillet (with a lid) over medium-low heat. When pan is hot, add the almonds and toast, stirring frequently, until they are golden brown and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove and set aside. Add green beans, 1⁄3 cup water, oil and salt. Increase heat to medium-high, cover and cook until steam escapes around the lid. Set timer for 5 minutes and continue to steam until green beans are brightly colored and just tender. Remove lid and continue to cook until water evaporates and the green beans start to sauté, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Turn off heat. Stir in toasted almonds, lemon peel and parsley. Makes 4 servings.

 

Caesar Salad

 

Ingredients:

 

Garlic Croutons

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4 cloves garlic

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1⁄4 cup pure olive oil

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2 cups packed 3⁄4-inch bread cubes (from stale bread or Italian loaf)

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1⁄8 t salt

 

Salad

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2 T lemon juice

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2 1⁄2 T mayonnaise

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1⁄4 t Worcestershire sauce

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3 romaine hearts (9 to 10 cups)

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5 T olive oil

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Salt and pepper

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1⁄4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling

 

Directions: To make croutons: Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Mince garlic cloves. Combine garlic and oil. Toss bread with one half of the garlic and oil (2 T). Add salt. Add the bread cubes to the skillet. Toast, turning the cubes often until crisp and golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Cool while breaking lettuce into pieces. Dressing: Whisk lemon juice, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and the remaining garlic and oil. Place Romaine in a large bowl, drizzle with the 5 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle lemon mixture. Add Parmesan cheese and toss. Add croutons and toss again. Sprinkle top with additional Parmesan. Makes 6 servings.

 

Olive Oil Primer

 

Storage

Not in the fridge! But in a cool, dark place, will keep for at least two years.

 

Varieties

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The highest grade. Best for bread, salads, on vegetables for robust olive oil flavor.

 

Olive Oil

A blended oil product made of lower quality virgin oil. Sometimes called “pure” olive oil. An all-purpose oil, can be used for frying, baking, basting. Has a mild fruity flavor. 

Extra Light or Mild Olive Oil

Less flavor but good for baking as an alternative to butter or margarine. The best for high heat cooking, remains stable and won’t burn. (May be harder to find.)

 

 

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