Learning more about Olive Oil, and some tasty recipes using it

Friday 28 March 2014

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Olive Oil World, the Europe-wide promotion of the European Union's Olive Oils, has joined forces with Greek producers to bring it's initiave to the UK.  I recently received a D.O.P. Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tasting pack so that I could do a personal tasting myself.

Olive oil tasting is an art equal in terms and complexity and difficulty with wine tasting.  It requires highly skilled and trained experts and is carried out through a strict and detailed procedure and scoring card created by the International Olive Oil Council.

An Extra Virgin Olive Oil is always superior in terms of quality, containing the following qualities:

Fruitiness -  a sensation of freshly cut olive fruits and leaves when smelling the olive oil.
Spiciness - a peppery sensation at the back of the throat and a slight "Burning" on the throat when tasting olive oil.
A pleasant hint of bitterness -felt at the upper part of the mouth and tongue when tasting olive oil.

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There was a booklet contained with the testing kit which explained the proper way to taste olive oil. I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued at how involved it was, and how similar to the procedure for tasting fine wines.

1.  Place about 1/2 an ounce of extra virgin olive oil in a small cup or wine glass.
2.  1st smelling . . .  Slightly heat cup/glass with your hands and then smell, try to detect the fruitiness.   The aroma should be pleasant, reminiscent of freshly mown grass, olive fruits and olive leaves.
3.  Tasting . . . take a piece of bread, preferably white and unflavoured, and dip it inside the olive oil.  Try to detec the slight spiniess and pleasant bitterness in our mouth.  Other flavours may appear as an aftertaste of a great olive oil, try to detect green apple, almond, artichoke or green tomatoes, banana or pineapple, asparagus, avocado.

Note - If you decided to take a small sip instead of dipping bread, please note you must ONLY take into your mouth a minute quantity, not more than about a teaspoon.

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I was amazed at the different qualities which came through as I tasted each oil.  I am by no means an expert and it really took me a few tries to get what I thought I should from this, but with perseverence I was able to detect an almost grassy peppery flavour . . . and the scent was very green I thought, very reminiscent of trees and leaves, not at all unpleasant, and I even thought I could taste asparagus, but that could have been my imagination.

I have been using olive oil in my home for a long time firstly because I like it and secondly because of all the positive implications of using olive oil.   Olive oil is rich in various antioxidants which play a positive, biological role in eliminating free radicals the molecules involved in some chronic diseases and ageing, and in extending life expectancy, which has been demonstrated in several epidemiological studies.

Many age-related diseases are influenced by diet, in particular osteoporosis and deteriorated cognitive function.

Olive oil and osteoporosis -  Olive oil appears to have a favourable effect on bone calcification, and bone mineralization is better the more olive oil is consumed.  It helps with calcium absorption, thereby playing an important part during the period of growth and in the prevention of Osteoporisis.

Olive oil and cognitive function -  Olive-oil-rich diets may prevent memory loss in healthy elderly people.  Less possibility of suffering age-related cognitive decline has been observed in a study conducted on elderly people administered diets containing a large amount ofonounsaturated fats, and in particular olive oil.

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We have long been told that foods which are high in anti-oxidents are very good for us and are indeed called "super-foods" helping in the prevention of heart disease and high cholesterol.  The high antioxidant content of a Mediterranean diet appears to contribute significantly to it's effect on longevity.   These antioxidants are to be found in frest fruit and vegetables.  Because it is the only oil to be obtained from a fruit, olive oil retains a host of substances, antioxidants and vitamins that give it added nutritional value.

In addition "virgin" olive oil, or olive oil which has not been refined or industrially treated, is particularly rich in these substances and has a strong antioxidant effect, protecting again damage from free radicals and against the formation of cancer.

All in all I think it's pretty safe to say that Olive Oil is really very good for you and I can attest to the fact that it tastes good too. 

*Olive Oil Focaccia*
Makes one 11 by 15 inch pan
(cuts into 10 to 12 pieces)
Printable Recipe

Although I am not a very good bread baker, or at least I don't think I am, this is one bread I can do that always turns out fabulously for me. It's quite like making a pizza dough in a way, which I can handle quite well. I like to strew fresh herbs across the top of mine before baking. I normally use a mixture of garlic, rosemary and parsley. Just be sure to chop them up really fine.

435ml warm water
1/4 ounce of active dry yeast
1 tsp honey
2 TBS olive oil
1 1/2 tsp salt
600g all purpose flour
mixture of chopped fresh herbs for topping (optional)

Put the water, yeast, honey, half of the olive oil and three handfuls of the flour into a large bowl. Mix with an electric mixer until smooth. Cover and leave for 20 to 30 minutes until it is all frothy and foamy on the top. Mix in the rest of the flour and 1 1/2 tsp salt If you have a dough hook, mix it with the dough hook for 4 to 5 minutes. If you don't have a dough hook, then you will have to use your hands. The dough will be quite sticky so just kind of slap it from one side to the other in the bowl, until it is smooth. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours or so.

Lightly grease an 11 by 15 inch baking tray with some vegetable shortening. Punch down the dough to flatten it and then spread it out into the tray, spreading it right out to the edges as evenly as you can. Try not to tear the dough. It may take a bit of perseverence to keep it spread, but eventually it will stay in place. Cover again and let rise for another 45 minutes.

Pre-heat your oven to 220*C/450*F. Mix the remaining olive oil with 1/2 cup hot water and 1 tsp salt. Stir until the salt dissolves. Make dimples in the top of the bread all over it's surface with your fingertips. Brush well with the saltwater mixture. Sprinkle with the herbs, if using.

Bake in the heated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and a bit crusty here and there. It should sound hollow on the bottom when tapped. Remove from the oven and cool a bit before cutting or tearing into pieces. We like this best warm, but it is also good served at room temperature or split and filled with meat and cheese.

*Warm Potato Salad with a Green Olive Dressing*
Serves 6
Printable Recipe

A delicious warm potato salad with a tangy dressing. Moreishly good!

3 1/2 pounds of salad potatoes, scrubbed, but not peeled (Nicola, Pink Fir, Charlotte,
you want a waxy potato, small in size)
70g pack of pitted green olives with herbs and garlic (about 1/2 cup), finely chopped
2 tsp of pickled capers, drained and finely chopped
the finely grated zest of one lemon
the juice of one lemon
2 spring onions, finely chopped
a small handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
125ml of extra virgin olive oil (1/2 cup)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the potatoes into a large saucepan and cover with lightly salted water. Bring to the boil and then cook until just tender, about 15 minutes. (The tip of a sharp knife should slice in and out easily.) Drain and cool slightly.

Place the olives, capers and spring onions in a bowl. Stir in the lemon zest, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil. Beat with a fork to combine.

Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and then gently toss in the dressing while they are still warm. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

*Herb and Lemon Roasted Chicken Breasts*
Serves 4
Printable Recipe

This is a delicious way of preparing chicken breasts which keeps them moist and very flavourful. I like to buy whole chickens and cut them up myself. Plan ahead as the chicken needs to marinate for about an hour before cooking.

4 bone in chicken breasts, skin on (you can do this yourself, or ask your butcher to do it for you)
2 fluid ounces of extra virgin olive oil
the finely grated zest of two unwaxed lemons (cut the remainder of the lemons into thin slices and set aside)
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
4 TBS finely chopped fresh chives
4 TBS finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
4 TBS finely chopped fresh tarragon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix together the olive oil, lemon zest and minced garlic. Remove the leaves from the thyme and rosemary and mince. Stir them into the olive oil along with the chives, parsley and tarragon. Mix all very well together. Lift the skin from the chicken breasts and rub half of the herbe mixture underneath and replace the skin over top. Rub the remainder of the herb mixture over all of the chicken. Lay each breast in a flat plastic container, placing each one on top of two lemon slices. Lay another two lemon slices on top of each breast. Cover and chill for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 200*C/400*F/ gas mark 5. Have ready a shallow baking dish. Place the chicken breasts into the dish, keeping the lemon slices on the bottom of each breast and the slices on top of each breast. Sprinkle with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Roast in the heated oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken breasts are cooked through, with the juices running clear and the skin is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for about 5 minutes before serving. These go very well with oven roasted potato wedges and purple sprouting broccoli. I sometimes roast the potato wedges in the pan with the chicken, which gives them a fabulous flavour as well. Delicious!

*Grilled Bread Salad with Basil and Cherry Tomatoes*
Serves 8
Printable Recipe

Toasty  bread, tossed together with cherry tomatoes, basil, and mini mozarella  cheeses in a red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing.  So delicious!

1 medium ciabatta loaf, sliced lengthwise into
1 inch thick slices (about 1/2 pound)
4 ounces extra virgin olive oil (1/2 cup), plus
extra for oiling the grill pan
fine sea salt
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and halved
1 pint of cherry or baby plum tomatoes, halved
(I keep mine on the counter, where they ripen really nicely)
8 spring onions, trimed and thinly sliced (both the white and green parts)
12 large fresh basil leaves, torn into bits
2 ounces good quality red wine vinegar (1/4 cup)
8 ounces fresh mini mozzarella's
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat  a heavy grill pan over medium high heat.  Brush with oil.  Lightly  brush the bread on both sides with some of the olive oil, and season  lightly with salt.  Place into the heated grill pan and cook until it  gets nicely browned, and gets some good grill  marks all over.  Turn  over and grill the other side.  Remove from the pan and rub all over on  both sides with the cut side of the garlic.  Discard the garlic when  done. Set the bread aside to cool.

Place the halved tomatoes into  a large shallow bowl along with the spring onion and basil.  Cut or  tear the bread into one inch cubes.  Add to the bowl along with the  tomatoes.  Whisk the remaining oil together with the vinegar.  Sprinkle  over the bread mixture and toss together well.  Let sit for a time at  room temperature before serving.  (Can allow to sit for up to 2 hours)   Just before serving add the mini cheeses and season all with a bit of  sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Many thanks to Simon for sending me this tasting kit and affording me the opportunity to learn more about Olive Oil!  I love learning new things!  I do so hope you will try some of these tasting techniques out on some of your favourite olive oils.  It's quite a fascinating exercise!

1 comment

  1. There's an Italian restaurant over here that serves rosemary bread with a little dish of olive oil and cracked pepper... And it is my favorite thing they serve! I love finding all the different flavors in olive oil. You can bake cakes with the fruity ones, dip the buttery ones, dressing with the peppery ones... The possibilities are endless! This post is fun :)


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