Tag Archives: oils

Bagna Cauda

Bagna Cauda

When it comes to me and vegetables, I am often a petulant child. Both Tara and my doctors shake their head when I mention my aversion to vegetables, and they give me stern looks. As I get older, I see the wisdom in their words, but it’s difficult for me to regularly put their suggestions of eating more vegetables into actions.

But here…here’s the perfect way to eat vegetables. Dunked in a hot olive oil/butter dip. Sign me up for hours of this.

Here’s a decent Piemonte recipe for you and your friends. Think fondue, but with olive oil instead of cheese. Have your skewers at the ready and make sure the oil is hot when you serve it.

  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 2oz tin of anchovies, finely chopped

Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a medium sized frying pan. Add your garlic and fry over medium heat until the garlic just starts to turn brown. Remove from heat.

Add remaining olive oil, butter, and anchovies. Mix well. Return to heat.

Pour oil into individual serving dishes (like those picture above). Skewer fresh veggies or bread and dunk ’til your heart’s content.

Makes 2 cups


Folk Remedies and Olive Oil

Still not convinced on how olive oil was an important component of Mediterranean culture? Here’s a list of various ways olive oil was integrated into everyday life.

Note that I do not advocate nor claim the efficiency of these claims.

  • Hair: People used olive oil as a conditioner of sorts. After shampooing one’s hair, they would rub in a mixture of olive oil, egg yolk, lemon juice and a bit of beer. They left it in for about 5 minutes before washing out.
  • Dandruff Preventative: By mixing in olive oil and eau de Cologne into your scalp, then rinsing out, one wouldn’t have to worry about the white flakes. See, even in the past people were vain enough to worry about dandruff.
  • Dry Skin: This is probably not a Mediterranean remedy, considering it consists of mixing avocado with olive oil. Supposedly if you mix these two items together and use it as a face mask for 10 minutes, you’ll have moisturized skin.
  • Wrinkles: A forerunner to Oil of Olay…if you mix olive oil and lemon, and then rub into your face before bedtime, it is told that it will lessen the effects of aging.
  • To Soften the Skin: Oil and Salt mixed together, massaged over the entire body and then washed off, will give you softer skin. Apparently people have always worried about bad skin.
  • Fingernails:Olive oil to strengthen your nails? Your soaking in it! Of course you have to then paint your nails with white iodine. Sort of a two step process.
  • Tired Feet: Hardly news here…people using olive oil to massage the tootsies.
  • Aching Muscles:Mix olive oil with pungent herbs, like mint and/or rosemary will soothe those sore backs and arms once massaged in well.
  • Acne:8 oz of Olive Oil and 10 drops (no more, no less) of lavender oil, rubbed into your skin, will, legend tells, prevent acne.
  • Reduce the effect of Alcohol: Plan on drinking but don’t want to get too drunk too quickly? Drink 2-3 spoonfuls of olive oil before hitting the bars.
  • High Blood Pressure:Boil 24 olive leafs in 8 oz of water for 15 minutes. Drink. Repeat processes twice a day for two weeks. It is said that this will lower your blood pressure.
  • Burns: That lavendar/olive oil combo mentioned above? It also works well for minor burns…and yes that would include sunburns.
  • Constipation: Well… I’ll just let this page speak for itself. Read it when you’re not eating.
  • Annoint Kings and other Royalty: Wish to be of royal lineage? Annoint yourself with olive oil and say a small prayer. Not really a home remedy, but I thought the idea was interesting.

Needless to say, some of these seem obvious (I like the alcohol one myself, I may need to try it out), others seem dubious…rubbing oil in your face to prevent acne? I thought they were interesting as trivia items, and not much more.

Many thanks to Anne Dolamore’s book The Essential Olive Oil Companion for the majority of these tidbits. Yes, I purchased a book about olive oil…I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Well, maybe just a little.


What to look for when Buying Olive Oil

It’s a bit intimidating, to be sure. Here you are, walking down the baking aisle of your local grocery store, when you come across the oil section. There are the familiar bottles of corn and vegetable oils. Down on the bottom shelf you should find a Crisco or two. If you’re really lucky, you may be able to locate a hunk of lard.

And then…

…and then you run into a huge section of olives oils. Some are canned, some are in green bottles. Some cost as little as five bucks, other as much as thirty. Then there are the terms on the bottles themselves. Just what the heck are you supposed to buy?

Fret not, mon amis! I am here to provide you with a rough guide of various terms and meanings which will help you decide which bottle of olive oil will fit your need.

First…Look at the label. You should see one of several terms and phrases which will help you determine the odds of getting a good bottle of oil. These terms are actually standards which a great many oil bottlers adhere to.

Extra-virgin olive oil comes from the first pressing of the olives, contains no more than 0.8% acidity, and is judged to have a superior taste. There can be no refined oil in extra-virgin olive oil. Extra-virgin oil typically has a noticeable green color. Extra-Virgin oil typically comes from the first pressing of the olives, and is usually nothing more than the juice of the olive. Not a bad thing to have around.

Virgin olive oil with an acidity less than 2%, and judged to have a good taste. There can be no refined oil in virgin olive oil. There can be oil, however, from second or even third pressings of the oil. Sometimes first pressings of lesser quality olives also get the “Virgin” label.

Olive oil is a blend of virgin oil and refined virgin oil, containing at most 1% acidity. It commonly lacks a strong flavor. This is typically the chemically refined stuff you find at lower and lowest prices in the store.

WARNING: Through the use of technology, there are some producers who can take lesser quality oil and chemcially remove acidity. By the letter of the law, they would then be “Extra Virgin” but there’s no mistaking the difference in taste between a $20 bottle of Extra Virgin and a $7 dollar.

What is cold-pressed olive oil? “Cold Pressed” is simply a technique used in pressing the oil out of the olives. Heat can break down oils, so there are several techniques used to prevent said break downs. The maximum temperature allowed in “Cold Pressed” techniques is 100 degrees F. If you see this on the label, you may not be assured of a good tasting product, but you can be assured that the producer has taste in mind when it comes to their oils. So this is a good thing to keep in the back of your head when shopping.

What Unfiltered Olive Oil? Exactly what the name implies…sediment from the pressing is not removed from the oil. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as some folks believe that the sediments add further flavor. Others think this is nonsense. If you find an unfiltered bottle, give it a try and make your own decision.

There are other variables that play into the quality of the oil. What region does it come from? Are the olives hand picked or mechanically pciked? What season were the olives harvested? What kind of olive was used in the pressing? How soon were the olives pressed after the were picked?

A lot of questions to be sure. But not a lot of answers. It is unlikely you will be able to figure out any of these answers from grocery store oils. However, the oils that come with a higher price tag may be able to answer several. But that’s why their more expensive…more resources are being applied to gather such information.

If you take anything away from this post, it is to experiment. Have more than one oil in your home in order to figure out what your preferences are. Put words to the tastes you experience. Compare them with other oils and with other people’s experience.

If you want to take away another thing from this post – it’s my recommendation for a cheap olive oil. Try Colivita. Although I experiment with other oils from time to time, I never feel bad if my only option in a store is Colivita. It’s not a complex oil, but it’s not supposed to be. This is the oil I would use for frying. I didn’t even need a free sample from Colivita in order for me to say that.

I’m not the only person who recommends it. Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s also mentions it in his book.

This should get you started on your olive oil hunt. Remember, there’s a difference between olive oils used for cooking, and olive oils used for taste. If your looking for cooking oil, Colivita. If your looking for taste, experiment using the advice from above. Be wary of Extra-Virgin Olive oil at $7 a bottle. Splurge on a $20 or $30 bottle if you can and compare the two. It’s through comparison that you’ll start to understand the differences in taste.

From there? Experiment, experiment, experiment.


Olive Oil

Some believe that crude oil is this world’s most valued and influential commodity.

Not I. I fall firmly in the group of people who believe that Olive Oil has done more for our world than crude oil ever will. Humanity has been using olive oil as food, cosmetics, religious tools, cleansers and lighting fuel since 5000 BC. How long has crude oil been an influential liquid?

Olive oils came from the Mediterranean area. Specifically it’s difficult where to figure out who, exactly, figured out you could do so much with the oil, but we’re pretty sure it was the greeks who made olive oil commercially available to the masses. They were so dependant upon olive oil for their economy that in the 6th century BC, Solon, the great Athenian legislator, drafted laws protecting the olive tree, hoping to ensure that no one would cut down the trees intentionally.

Did I mention the virgins before? I don’t think so.

It is said that in ancient Greece, on some olive farms, only virgins could pick the olives, probably under the idea that an unsullied person could treat a fruit better than someone who has gotten some. *shrug* All I know is that 90% of my high school class could have never worked as an olive picker in Ancient Greece.

Here in America, we’re weren’t much of an olive oil nation until we started getting immigrants from the Meditteranean in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. Before that, we were pretty much a “Lard” and “butter” country, which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s nice to have options. However, in the 1700s, it was the Franciscan missionaries brought the first olive trees to the new world, placing them throughout Mexico and what is now California. So when the Italian and Greek immigrants began demanding olive oil, there were already resources to draw from at a much lower cost than if they were to import it all the way from Italy, Spain or Greece.

Olive oil is probably the fat that I cook with most often. So expect a few extra notes and recipes about this topic over the next week or so.