Ever felt like you have somethingin common with a cartoon character? I have an emotional bond with Popeye. We both love us some Olive Oil. For me, it’s not a gangly waif, it’s food. It seems I’m not alone — Americans can’t live without the stuff anymore.
It wasn’t too long ago that this wonderful elixir was considered an exotic item that only those of Mediterranean descent could tolerate. Its strong flavor and aroma seemed too foreign and strange for our timid, sensitive palates. But no longer! We’ve grown to appreciate the intense aroma, deeply layered flavor profile, lush and viscous body and even the high price.
Yet people still seemed confused about what to look for in this gift from the gods. The marketing and sale of olive oil are often based on deceptive practices designed to fool lazy, uninformed consumers. How do you avoid being ripped off when trying to buy a quality product? The short answer: Read the damn label!
The longer answer is much more complicated. To get the very best oil, you need to know that only one type of olive oil is worth the price: first cold press, extra virgin olive oil. Any other oil has residue left over from this first cold pressing. Second, continue to read the label! Look for information about the location where the olives were harvested and the estate where they were produced. Italian olive oil is the best — but be careful. Those labels might read “produced in Italy,” but when you read more closely, the detailed information often reveals that the oil is produced in Italy “from grapes grown in Spain and Greece.” That’s not authentic Italian olive oil.
Finally, check to see if there’s a harvest date. If all this information is on the label and you’re purchasing from a reputable retailer, then you’re fairly safe. One last thing to remember: High quality oils are expensive. A bargain olive oil at a warehouse store is probably low quality. You don’t want that.
Now that you’ve done all this work, remember Italians never export the really good stuff — they keep it for themselves! You have to go to Italy to taste the best.
Here’s a killer pasta sauce to showcase your best olive oil.
Chef Bill’s Cherry Tomato Sauce
- 2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small zucchini, seeded, small diced
- 1/2 sweet onion, julienned
- 1 garlic clove, extremely thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup pancetta, small diced
- 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 2 tbsp. parsley, finely chopped
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- 3 ounces pasta water
- 2 tbsp. basil, rough chop
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 4 tbsp. parmesan cheese
- Your best olive oil to finish the dish
1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Add the pancetta then the onion and briefly sauté. Add parsley and pepper flakes.
2. Bring the pasta water to a boil.
3. Add zucchini and sauté briefly. Add tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes.
4. Add the pasta to the water, season with salt. After 2 minutes, take 3 ounces of pasta water and add to the sauce. Add 2 tbsp. of parmesan to the sauce.
5. When the pasta is al dente, drain.
6. Taste the sauce, adjust the seasoning, toss with pasta and basil. Top with the rest of the parmesan.
7. Drizzle with a generous amount of the best extra virgin olive oil you can find.
Until we cook again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Historic Fernandina Beach, with your recipes or questions at [email protected], for inspiration to get you Cheffed Up!