Adopt an Olive Tree

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I don’t know about you but I’ve always been drawn to schemes where you can sponsor or adopt something you care about in return for an acknowledgment, a product and usually a real sense of well-being at having supported a good cause.  I clearly remember our class in Primary School sponsoring a child in Africa and receiving a letter of thanks, my son once adopted a book in my name at the John Rylands Library in Manchester and now I’m about to adopt my very first Olive Tree!  And here’s why.

The team of four young people, Spaniards Álvaro de la Heras and Víctor Jiménez, Emeline Mourocq from France and Liliana Borges from Portugal, met on a research project in Granada and, perhaps jokingly at first, discussed starting their own bio-diversity project.  Talk became more serious and in October 2014 the four arrived at the finca on the outskirts of Prado del Rey and the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park with plans, tons of knowledge (check out their bios here – I’m in awe of them!) and bucket loads of enthusiasm but no actual experience of working with olive groves.

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The team: L – R Álvaro, Víctor, Liliana and Emeline

Arriving at the start of harvesting, and faced with around 600 trees that had been neglected for many years, O-Live MedioAmbiente was born, onto land that was farmed by Víctor’s grandfather many years ago.

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How gracious is this beautiful old tree

In that first year the 6 hectares which contain predominantly zorzaleña olives (similar to the Italian Leccino – a mild, sweet flavoured olive) produced 90 litres of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  Fruit starts to appear on the trees in June and is harvested in the first week of October with last year’s harvest producing a very credible 500 litres of Extra Virgin Olive Oil from a crop of 2,500 kgs of olives.

Within three hours of harvest the olives travel 20 kms up to the road to the almazara (mill) where they’re immediately crushed and turned into ‘olive juice’ and within 48 hours the sediment has settled and they’re ready for bottling.  And the finished result: Oriole, named after the beautiful Golden Oriole, a songbird which visits the olive grove annually.

But it’s not only about the olives with this team, they have also installed 60 nest boxes, built small ponds to encourage amphibians to return and little dams to help prevent erosion as the site is on a slope and all the best soil ends up at the bottom of the grove whenever there’s a heavy downfall of rain.

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A rabbit centre – kind of a community centre, but for rabbits!

They’ve introduced rabbit centres and described the rabbits as ‘eco system engineers’ as they help to spread seeds and provide vital food for the Lynx Eagles.  The nest boxes have attracted Blue Tits, Sparrows and Starlings and are proving particularly popular.

There are many ways to support the O-Live MedioAmbiente team, from joining them for their regular field trips, bird watching and hiking to membership, donations and volunteering to get your hands dirty!  Which leads me back to the my original point, sponsoring an olive tree.  All the details of their three different sponsorship levels are clearly set out on their website but what all three levels have in common is access to superb quality, artisan, single estate extra virgin olive oil produced by a team who are passionate about preserving their environment, developing methods to help rural farmers and improve biodiversity.

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L-R Me, Álvaro, Víctor, Liliana and Julia who was visiting from Madrid to see her adopted tree!

For every new sponsor the team place a nest box in the grove allowing you to follow not only your own tree, but also the lifecycle of the birds from nest building right through to the young fledglings.

If you are anywhere near the area, or can plan a trip to visit the project in Sierra de Grazalema in Southern Spain you’ll receive a warm welcome, see at first hand the fabulous work they’re carrying out – and get to taste some great Extra Virgin Olive Oil into the bargain.  Check the guys out and let me know how you get on if you visit them.  My next blog will feature a tasting of their lovely olive nectar as I crack open a bottle of Oriole and try it for myself.  I’m particularly excited as it will be my first proper tasting of an unfiltered olive oil (the 50 or so EVOOs I tasted on the sommelier course don’t count because I’ve no idea what they all were!).

Until next time …

Bravo Bravoleum

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Many congratulations to the team at Bravoleum who came 5th in the latest rankings of Best Olive Oils in the world by the World’s Best Olive Oil Campaign.  The Award, for EVOOs produced from the 2015/2016 harvest is calculated by combining the results of 14 major international extra virgin olive oil competitions.

World’s Best Olive Oils is a not-for-profit, independent, expert-led organisation who publish comprehensive and objective rankings of the world’s best olive oils and olive mills.

The reason I’m particularly pleased to congratulate the Bravoleum team is because, as you may remember, my very first tastings for this blog were from that very company.  Do you remember these handsome chaps?

bravoleum-hacienda  What excites me too is that, whilst the Award went to Bravoleum Picual rather than the Hacienda El Palo Picual that I featured, the two oils I tasted were both purchased in Supersol, a popular supermarket chain in Spain.  My point being that you can get some fabulous tasting, top quality oils from supermarkets at incredibly reasonable prices.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil is something to savour and enjoy and doesn’t have to be daunting or intimidating.  The olives used in the Hacienda El Palo are going to be from the same trees/groves as the higher quality/priced oils .

Even on their website a 500ml bottle of the Bravoleum Picual ranked 5th in the world remember – is only 8.25 Euros.  I’ll be back at Supersol in the morning to scour the shelves for the Picual and hope I’m lucky enough to pick up a bottle!

IMG_0662Looking at the table above, you’ll notice that nine of the Top 10 EVOOs are Spanish (with Italy making an appearance at number six) and of those nine an incredible eight are from producers in Andalucía (where I just happen to be living at the moment – lucky me!).

Next time I’ll tell you all about my first visit to an Olivar (olive grove) and the fabulous young team behind O-Live Medio Ambiente in the heart of the stunning Sierra de Grazalema.

Hasta pronto chicos – until next time.

 

A Week Away

Crikey, this week has gone quickly!  Maybe that’s because I spent it on the shores of the lovely Lake Garda in Italy, where the highlight of the week was …

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The view from my hotel room

Or maybe it was the fabulous trip to the Frantoio Montecroce grove where we saw the full production process, tasted gorgeous Extra Virgin Olive Oils and some pretty tasty wines:

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Back of the class as usual, that’s me with the lilac trousers on!

 

Although of course the highlight could also have been the afternoon strolls into Desenzano del Garda for a coffee by the waterside:

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Beautiful Desenzano

Or even tasting over 45 fabulous EVOOs Anonymoustasting

But I’ve got to confess I suspect the highlight of the week was …

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Receiving my diploma from IRVEA Executive Director Mauro Martelossi

There were 13 of us on the course from: Wales (me!), France, Italy, Argentina, Lithuania, Denmark, France, Spain, Canada, USA, Turkey, China and Australia.

In addition to Olive Oil tasting and learning about production of Extra Virgin Olive Oil from branch to bottle, we had a great cookery demonstration, visited an olive grove and a vineyard and enjoyed a lot of delicious food.  A big thank you to the tutors and team at The Olive Oil Academy and I’m looking forward to sharing some of what I’ve learnt with you all in the coming weeks.

The Best Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

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Okay, it’s the only one I’ve made so I can’t state absolutely that it’s the best but, it’s really easy to make and tastes absolutely delicious so that’s pretty ‘best’ in my book.

We were invited to one of their occasional gastronomic intercambios (food sharing) by the profesoras at our local language school La Janda in Vejer de la Frontera (they’re fab of course and even managed to get me speaking passable Spanish!) and I was pondering what to take.  Previously I’ve made Welsh Cakes and Bara Brith (are you sensing a theme here with the Welsh produce?!) but time was short, I needed to use ingredients in my store cupboard and I wanted to try an Olive Oil cake for this blog.

At the back of my mind was the memory of a fabulous chocolate cake that a Korean lady had made for an Asian Women in Hanoi event (I know, talk about a gastronomic exchange) and was sure she’d given me a copy of the recipe.  After much digging around in my recipes files I found it, dated 25th January 2013 and never made by me – lucky I’m a hoarder eh!  I adapted it slightly and have told you where that’s the case so without further ado, let’s get on with making my version of Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Olive Oil Cake. IMG_1170

Ingredients:

125 ml mild Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Nigella says 150 ml regular olive oil but then you don’t get the health benefits of the EVOO)

50 grams good quality unsweetened cocoa powder

150 ml boiling water (Nigella says 125 ml)

2 teaspoons good vanilla extract

125 grams ground almonds (Nigella says 150g but I didn’t have that much so made it up to 150g with cornflour.  She also says you can use 125g of plain flour)

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda & a pinch of salt

150 grams caster sugar (Nigella says 200g)

3 eggs

Method:

  1.  Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas mark 3/325F.  Grease a 22-23cm springform tin and base line with baking parchment.
  2. Sift the cocoa powder into a bowl and whisk in the boiling water to a smooth paste, runny but only just.  Whisk in the vanilla extract and set aside to cool.
  3. Combine the ground almonds (and/or flour) with the bicarbonate of soda and a pinch of salt.
  4. Put the sugar, olive oil and eggs into a bowl and beat vigorously with an electric hand mixer for 3-4 minutes until pale primrose and aerated.
  5. Turn the speed down on the mixer and pour in the cocoa mixture and then the almonds (or flour).  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix to make sure everything is evenly combined.
  6. Pour this lovely, dark, liquid batter into the prepared tin and bake for 35-45 minutes depending on your oven, until the sides are set and the very centre still looks slightly damp.  A skewer should come out clean with a few sticky crumbs on it.
  7. Leave in the tin to cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack then ease the cake away from the sides before springing it out of its tin.
  8. Enjoy warm with cream or ice cream or allow to cool completely before eating as a cake, with some thick Greek yogurt or clotted cream perhaps.

Of course I was just bursting to try a slice but ate my way dutifully through the savoury dishes of my fellow exchange companions (don’t feel too bad for me, it was all delicious).  When I came to take a picture and a slice of the cake – it had all gone!  I ended up pinching a bit of a friend’s slice and she wasn’t happy.  I’m a huge Nigella fan so was always going to love this cake. Try it for yourselves, it couldn’t be easier and I promise it tastes fantastic.  Remember to send me a photo of your handiwork and let me know what you think.

Until next time.

What exactly is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

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Having written a few posts now, I thought it might be useful to take a step back and define exactly what olive oil is and what the different names; Extra Virgin, Virgin, Olive and Olive Pomace mean.

One of the issues when talking about Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is that the name is a bit of a mouthful and people often just refer to it as Olive Oil.  So let’s start there; what is olive oil?  Put simply, it’s olive juice; the freshly pressed juice of the olive fruit with the water extracted and all olive oil comes from the first and only pressing.  Under regulations set up by the International Olive Council and the European Union, olive oil must only be obtained by mechanical or other physical means under conditions that do not lead to alterations in the oil.  Furthermore the olives and oil must not undergo any treatment other than washing, decanting, centrifuging and filtering.

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Okay so Olive Oil = Olive Juice   But if that’s the case why the different names?  Well, think of it this way, the different names signify different grades of oil.  Each grade has an official description which ‘must’ appear on the label of the bottle.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil – ‘Superior category olive oil obtained directly from olives and solely by mechanical means’.  This is the highest grade of oil.  Often referred to as EVOO or on Spanish oils AOVE (Aceite de Oliva Virgen Extra).  It is the natural juice of the olive with only the water removed.  It has zero defects in taste and aroma and an acidity level of less than 0.8%.  No additives or preservatives and the most health benefits due to its high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids, polyphenols and antioxidants.

Virgin Olive Oil – ‘Olive oil obtained directly from olives and solely by mechanical means’.  This is the second grade of olive oil and it too is the natural juice of the olive with only the water removed.  However, it can have up to 3.5 defects in a professional tasting and must have an acidity  of less that 2%.

pure olive oilOlive Oil – ‘Oil comprising exclusively olive oils that have undergone refining and oils obtained directly from olives’.  This is oil that defects such as a rancid taste or bad smell and therefore needs to be refined, by chemical means.  The oil is obtained by blending refined olive oil and virgin or extra virgin olive oil but there are no rules regarding the percentage of virgin oil that is added back in.  This oil is sometimes marketed as Pure Olive Oil which can cause confusion for consumers because it sounds like it’s of a far higher quality than it probably is.  The processing undergone results in a fairly bland, lightly coloured oil which is still rich in monounsaturated fatty acids which are good for you, but it’s devoid of the polyphenols and antioxidants which are even better for you.  Some people choose to cook with this because it is cheaper than Virgin or Extra Virgin.  I personally only use Extra Virgin.

pomaceOlive Pomace Oil – ‘Oil comprising exclusively oils obtained by treating the product obtained after the extraction of olive oil and oils obtained directly from olives’.  Okay, now here’s the messy one.  Whilst not everyone is going to be converted into using EVOO or VO for everything in their kitchen, please, please don’t go near this stuff.  It is extracted from the waste of the oil mill by use of chemical solvents and then has to undergo further refinement to remove those solvents before it’s fit for human consumption!  But really – why bother, there’s no goodness left so you might as well buy some other kind of oil.

Hopefully I’ve demystified the categories but I should perhaps mention that Australian standards are broadly the same as the European mentioned above while the Californian Olive Oil Council has a voluntary seal of approval with slightly stricter guidelines than the European.

What do I buy and why?  

As I spend a lot of time in Spain, I tend to buy predominantly Spanish AOVE (EVOO to us English speakers!).  I buy some in supermarkets like Aldi, Mercadona, Carrefour or Supersol and the rest I buy in small corner shops, service stations or roadside ventas (cafes) when we’re travelling and specialists or direct from the mill.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with buying a standard EVOO from a supermarket (I think I’m paying around 4 euros a litre?) BUT I love to have a selection because they honestly all taste so different.  I’ll cover some of the differences in a later blog.  Experiment and find the oils that best suit your type of cooking and enjoy using the oil as a health inducing flavouring rather than just a means of ensuring your food doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan!

And finally, two points I’d like to leave you with:

  • Cold Extraction or Extracción en frío.  If you think about this it makes sense that this would be superior because oil extracted under high temperature extracts more juice from the olive but kills the polyphenols (which are the healthiest bit about the oil).  BUT these days with modern centrifugal extraction machines the temperature is kept low anyway and ALL extra virgin olive oil should be expressed at below 27 C (about 80F) for it to even be called Extra Virgin.  So, nice bit of labelling/marketing but not particularly useful.
  • EVOO does not mature!  The fresher the better with olive oil so always read the label to find the Best Before date and, if possible a Harvested date. Generally the Best Before date will be 18 months after bottling (some large packers store the oil before bottling so it could be 2 or more years old).  But let’s not get too caught up in the terminology.  If you can find a Harvested date that’s great – the younger the oil the better it should be (assuming everything else is ‘good’ with the oil), if not make sure there’s a decent amount of time left on the Best Before.

I hope this has been helpful, please do remember that I’m a consumer who’d like to know more, I’m not a professional or expert and I do my best to make sure that the information I’m passing on is correct.  If you know better – do let me know.  Please also share with me your own experiences with buying and cooking with EVOO and if there’s anything you’d like to see me cover in future posts, let me know.

Until next time, enjoy that EVOO!

California Dreaming

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On a recent visit to Nashville I was determined to take a drive out to Franklin and visit Olivia Olive Oil on Cool Spring Boulevard in Franklin, Tennessee.

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And just one look at this photo will explain why!  Any website whose home page says: “Visit our tasting bar to sample the best” has got me interested to begin with.  Not being used to American addresses it did take us a few attempts to find Unit 103 but it was well worth persevering.

Olivia herself welcomed us warmly, despite serving another customer at the time, and assured us she’d be with us shortly.  And when we did get to chat she proved to be a fine ambassador for Californian EVOO (although I confess she was rather surprised that we live in Spain and had come specifically to buy American EVOO).  True to the website, you can sample a wide selection of oils (and vinegars for that matter) and after much discussion with hubby we purchased an Ascolano, a basil infused oil and a gorgeous balsamic vinegarOliviaOilsVin

A couple of months on and we’ve nearly finished the basil oil and balsamic, which surprised me because I’m not sure how I feel about flavoured oils.  However, coming to the tasting of Ascolano was a real treat.

First the bottle itself.  Well, the labelling is disappointingly vague with the only information being two stickers: Best Before and Ascolano California.  The Olivia Olive Oil label is gorgeous and, as I’ve said, Olivia seemed really knowledgeable but, I’d like to see a bit more information on the bottle itself.  Version 2

 

And so to the tasting.  The initial smell was peaches and bananas.  The initial taste; mild and sweet, again peaches came to mind with a cashew nut aftertaste.  The texture is smooth, no fire or real bitterness.

I would serve this oil with sweet tomatoes, drizzled over a fruit salad, paired with a sweet balsamic vinegar to make a dressing; carrots, popcorn or even drizzled over some first class vanilla ice cream.  It would work equally well with sweet and savoury dishes but nothing too overpowering or strongly flavoured.

And finally, I tried dipping some fresh crusty bread into the oil Version 2 and even let hubby have a taste.  Here, I still got the peach flavours but also very young grass.  When I drizzled it over a fresh carrot and coriander soup for lunch the flavours were delicious.

As Ascolano olives originate in Italy EVOO should be readily available in Europe.  Why not search some out, give it a try and let me know what you think?  With summer just around the corner this oil could be the perfect thing to drizzle over a plate of ripe peaches.

Barcelona – where it all began

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My love of EVOO started in a rather surprising way, on 21st April 2016, on a Devour Barcelona Food Tours walking tour of Gracia Neighbourhood.  Of the 10 stops on the tour, there were three ‘stand out’ places I was really looking forward to:  image_2449858

  1. A grilled botifarra (sausage) sandwich with cava (okay, I confess, I love cava and the thought of starting the day with it was bliss!),
  2. Sampling a selection of Spanish and Catalan cheeses at the central market and
  3. The handmade Syrian pastry at Patisseria Principe.

Another six sounded lovely and one I’d already discounted as ‘not for me’.  Yep, the olive oil tasting.

In my defence, I hate greasy foods.  I have always picked the fat off meat, used the absolute minimum of butter or spread on sandwiches and wouldn’t eat anything where I could see fat/oil or grease on it.  So olive oil wasn’t likely to float my boat was it!

However, the fifth stop on our tour was to Oli Sal a shop specialising in Extra Virgin Olive Oils and artisan vinegars.  There were three oils available for us to try and some really lovely looking bread so, not to be outdone by my tour companions, I took the plunge, dipped my bread into the first oil and tasted it.  Hmm, surprisingly creamy and not at all greasy.  The second was very peppery and the third tasted like hazelnuts.  I was shocked.  Not only had I voluntarily eaten (and enjoyed) three ‘oily’ things, but could tell the difference between them.

Given such a rapid conversion I decided to buy a bottle of ‘good oil’ to take home and – admittedly, swayed by the beautiful packaging – chose a 100 ml bottle of Sahita, which is an hojiblanca olive.  img_1078  Hubby was a bit shocked at the price (which neither of us can remember now but it was about 5 euros I think) but I was determined to buy a decent bottle, and where better than this beautiful specialist shop?

When we got back home to Vejer I was still thinking about olive oils and how much I’d enjoyed the even limited tasting that we’d done.  I started researching to see whether there were olive oil tasting courses that I could take and a whole new world opened up before my very eyes!

Not only are there numerous fabulous sounding tasting holidays and workshops but you can even become a certified olive oil sommelier.  Imagine that – I thought sommeliers were wine specialists!

And that was it.  A passion was born, right there at Oli Sol,  170 Travessera de Gracia in Barcelona.  Thanks Devour Spain – you’ve literally changed my life!

Rice and Lentils – a recipe

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Mujaddarah, perhaps more than any other dish, crosses borders and boundaries, with recipes galore from Syria and Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan.  The first recorded recipe dates back to a cookery book from Iraq called Kitab al-Tabikh in 1226 by the medieval writer al-Baghdadi.

mujadarra

Mujaddarah – Rice and Lentils

My recipe has been adapted from a book that originally belonged to my mother called Complete Arab Cookery by Armenian architect, restaurateur, cookery book writer and painter Arto der Haroutunian.  I always like to use the best quality ingredients that I can afford and that is particularly important in a dish like this which is basically just rice, lentils, onion and oil.  Therefore it’s essential, in my opinion, to use a good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil – not a super expensive one as you need quite a lot of it, but absolutely not any kind of refined oil.  Pure, EVOO from a supermarket is fine – so I’m talking £3-5 a bottle rather than £15-20.

When I first made this dish, over 20 years ago now, I remember being horrified by the amount of oil needed – nearly a third of a pint seemed an outrageous amount – but trust me, use a good oil and the dish will be sublime.

Ingredients:

  • 175g brown lentils, washed thoroughly and drained
  • 900 mls cold water
  • 200 mls Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 large onions, halved lengthwise, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 300 mls boiling water
  • 175g rice (I use Basmati), well washed

Method:

  1. Put the lentils into a large saucepan (all the remaining ingredients eventually end up in this pan so bear that in mind), cover with the cold water and bring to the boil.
  2. Skim the surface of any scum, lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes until the lentils are almost cooked and most of the water has evaporated.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan and very gently cook the sliced onion until they are a beautiful dark golden brown.  Stir frequently to make sure they don’t burn and don’t be tempted to hurry them.
  4. Reserve half the oil and onions and add the other half to the nearly cooked lentils.
  5. Add the boiling water, salt and pepper to the lentils and then stir in the rice.
  6. Return to the boil then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the lentils and rice are tender and the water has been absorbed.
  7. Remove from the heat and leave to stand, covered for 10-15 minutes.
  8. Pile the mujaddarah onto a serving plate garnished with the remaining onions and oil.  Fresh herbs such as parsley, mint or coriander can also be sprinkled over the dish.

This is delicious served with pickles such as red cabbage, olives, a tomato salad or a bowl of thick Greek style yogurt. It makes a fantastic main course Vegetarian dish or as a side for chicken or meat and can be served hot or at room temperature.

Serves 4-6 depending on hunger/greed!

3 Things You Might Not Know About Cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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On opening the cupboard in my Spanish friend’s kitchen recently I was surprised to find only one type of oil – Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  “But where are the others?” I asked.  “What others?” she replied, completely mystified.  “Sunflower, Corn, Rapeseed, Olive Oil” I listed (and I hadn’t even started on sesame, peanut, coconut …)

After several minutes of me explaining how I use each oil my friend looked at me aghast.  “But I use Extra Virgin Olive Oil for all those things” she concluded genuinely perplexed.  Which got me thinking, researching and experimenting and here are 3 things that I discovered, and that you might not know, about cooking with EVOO:

  • Frying

Perhaps the most controversial area of cooking with EVOO is whether or not it’s suitable for deep-fat frying (although nowadays many of us either avoid this at home completely or use an air-fryer which uses only a spoonful of oil).  The short answer is YES.  Arguments tend to focus on the smoke point of an oil and those refined oils (such as sunflower, corn, vegetable and ordinary olive oil) tend to have a smoke point of around 220 degrees C while EVOO is usually quoted as having a smoke point around 190 degrees C.  When you consider though that this is also the ideal temperature for deep frying chips, you can see why those skinny fries served in many Spanish bars not only taste so good, but are also pretty healthy.

In addition to the huge volume of evidence about the value of EVOO as part of a Mediterranean Diet, there are also plenty of studies showing the nutritional value of cooking certain foods with EVOO.

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Deep Fried Olives

Fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamin E (in Carrots for instance) are more readily absorbed by the body when cooked in Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  Fish and shellfish similarly benefit from EVOO cooking as higher levels of both Vitamin E and polyphenols are absorbed by the body than would be the case eating fish and olive oil separately.  Similarly, the antioxidants in olive oil help to prevent the breakdown of Omega-3 in the fish.

  • Baking

EVOO can be used to bake everything from breads to pastry and cookies to cakes.  Where you  have to be more careful is

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Dark Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

when switching from butter, margarine or lard (which are solid fats) to olive oil (which is a liquid).  In this case, simply reduce the amount to three quarters of the original quantity.  Thus, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of butter, use 3/4 cup of oil (or 150 mls of oil for 250 grams of fat for those who prefer weights to volume).  Although of course there are many fabulous recipes available, where the author has done the hard work of conversion for you such as The Olive Oil Diet by Dr. Simon Poole (a full-time GP and renowned international commentator on the Mediterranean Diet) and Judy Ridgway (acclaimed food writer and olive oil expert).

  • Poaching

Yep, you read that correctly!   This method of cooking is the exact opposite of deep frying as the food is cooked very slowly on a low heat, submerged in olive oil.  This long cooking time breaks down the connective tissue in the meat resulting in a beautifully moist, tender texture.

You might think that submerging food in oil for a long time would result in a finished dish that is greasy but, in fact, the opposite is true.

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Chicken Confit

The oil’s function is to keep the liquid inside the meat and as we all know that oil and water don’t mix so the oil forms a thin layer on the outside of the meat without being absorbed into it.  There’s a great sounding recipe for Confit of Chicken in the most recent issue of the North American Olive Oil Association’s (NAOOA) blog.  They also advise that fish, garlic cloves and onions are delicious made using this technique and that the oil is reusable after cooling and straining.

So there you have it, three great new ways to add super healthy Extra Virgin Olive Oil into your cooking.

Until next time.

 

 

 

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Let’s Get Tasting

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Right, let’s jump straight in today with the tasting of not one, but two, Extra Virgin Olive Oils:  Bravoleum and Hacienda el Palo.

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They were bought in Supersol, a popular supermarket chain with nearly 200 stores throughout Spain.   I’ve chosen these to feature first, rather than something purchased from a specialist shop because a good supermarket is probably the easiest place to start for anyone interested in developing their taste for olive oil.

It’s important to remind you that I’m a consumer who’d like to know more, rather than an expert.  Last December I attended my first tasting course – 3 hours in the company of the hugely enthusiastic and knowledge Mar Luna Villacanas at the Escuela Europea De Cata in Madrid.  I’ve tried to remember and incorporate some of what Mar shared with us on this introduction to tasting olive oil course but I repeat, I’m not an expert and my opinions are my own.  If I repeat this exact same tasting a year from now, I’ve no doubt that my palate will be more sophisticated but I hope I never lose the joy of these early days – I’m aiming for knowledgeable naivety and you’ve got to start somewhere!  So, off we go.

Firstly, the Hacienda El Palo.  haciendaPurchased this morning for 3,75 Euros.  According to the bottle it’s Picual olives, Superior category, cold extraction by mechanical means.  It’s an Extra Virgin and is best before September 2018.

Smell: red apple, fruity

Taste: strawberry, sweet on the tongue, then slightly bitter and nutty with an aftertaste of light pepper and pear.

Texture: smooth and light.

Secondly, the Bravoleum Arbequina.  Purchased today for 6,95 Euros.  It is branded as being Special Selection and, as the name suggests it is made from Arbequina olives.  Best before September 2018.bravoleum

Smell: ripe banana, corn, butter

Taste: cashew nuts, dried fruit with a slightly fiery, peppery aftertaste deep in the throat.

Texture: very light, almost disappearing once swallowed.

Both oils come from Hacienda El Palo, a multi award winning producer based in Jaen, Spain. Given their Best Before dates, these olives will have been harvested October/November 2016.

As I said earlier – these are simply my impressions of smell and taste.  Check out the website for the producers tasting notes.  They are both very pleasant oils, my preference would be for the Bravoleum but when I put both on the table at lunchtime my husband favoured the El Palo.

bravo-hacienda-cata