In part one I covered the history of the olive oil and how it’s made and now comes the promised recipes. But first, here’s a secret: it is incredibly easy to make your own herb or spice flavored olive oil. There is no point buying an expensively decorated bottle of olive oil that has a sprig or two of herb swimming into it. It’s more fun to make one’s own, and cheaper. Much cheaper.
There are basically two ways of making infused oils: hot and cold. I much prefer to go the cold way for the simple reason that I have burnt oils in the past. Even if you know how to use a thermometer, you might still get it wrong as it is a delicate process. The cold way is dead easy: select your desired herb or spice, add it to the (extra) virgin oil and store in your pantry for two weeks before use.
Olive oil makes the best infusions, IMO, though some would prefer using sunflower or canola. Sure, olive oil tends to go rancid more quickly than other oils but if you keep your newly infused oil well refrigerated, it will last three weeks to a month (be sure to refrigerate the oil to avoid the threat of botulism). Other oils will stay fresh for about six weeks to two months.
For herb oils I would use whole, freshly picked leaves. For example if you fancy a basil infusion, select a handful of leaves, bruise them to release flavor and place them in a clean glass container and cover with extra virgin olive oil. Seal tightly and leave in a cool, dark place to infuse for ten days to two weeks (the pantry is an ideal place). Almost any fresh herb will provide you with a wonderful infusion: rosemary, thyme (my favorite), summer savory, tarragon, oregano, cilantro, marjoram, chervil, chives, bay leaf.
For spiced oils I would prefer to use whole spices whenever possible. If you choose ground spices, strain the oil through a cheesecloth before bottling it. It will keep strengthening the flavor over time but remember to utilize the oil fairly quickly. You can also add garlic into your herbed oil, but remove the garlic cloves after a couple of days so as to not overpower the flavor of whatever herbs you are using. If you want a straight garlic oil infusion then place about twelve peeled cloves into the bottle alongside a few whole black peppercorns. Other suggestions for spiced oils would be: all kinds of peppercorns (pink, green, white, black), cardamom, star anise (great with seafood salads), juniper (but remember to crush them before inserting into bottle for maximum flavor), coriander seeds, cinnamon, chili flakes, allspice. I like this combination: a whole fresh chili split into two with a few sprigs of cilantro (coriander).
Now that we have the flavored oils under control, let’s have a looksee at the recipes. Our kitchen smells like Provence. We use a lot of olive oil, thyme and rosemary. But before I go on, a word of advice: when cooking with olive oil be careful that it does not reach the smoking point or it will increase carcinogens. For instance, if I need to fry a piece of chicken or just brown some onions, I would add a knob of butter to a soupspoon of olive oil, that way it won’t burn easily.
In my neck of the woods we make a mean aioli and serve it with almost anything. Well refrigerated it will last six or seven days. No chance it will last that much in me casa!
I make mine in a medium-sized batch: 20 to 30 cloves of pink garlic (any young garlic will do if you can’t find it), 6 egg yolks (preferably free-range but don’t have a cow if not available), 2 medium-sized boiled potatoes (peeled and cubed), 1 pint of extra-virgin olive oil, 1 pinch of sea salt, cracked black pepper to suit, and two lemon wedges. Note that this is best made by hand. Sure, you could use a food processor, but this will “cook” your oil in no time and won’t taste as good. You will need a mortar and a pestle. And some elbow grease!
Crush the garlic in the mortar. Once fully crushed, add the yolks, salt and pepper, then the cubed potatoes. Keep crushing in a circular movement. When done transfer to a steel bowl and begin to add the olive oil very slowly using a whisk. Half way through, squeeze the lemon wedges into it. The Aioli must be very firm, clinging to the whisk. When done, dip a piece of celery or half a tomato and tell me it’s not heavenly. You can use Aioli on croutons floating in fish soup too.
Bagna Cauda: it literally means “warm bath”. If you’re a fan of anchovies, this is great and inexpensive for parties. Chefs in general love to use the humble anchovy: it melts perfectly. You can make a great tomato sauce for a pasta dish and by adding a few anchovies you turn it into a “speed eleven” dish! Bagna Cauda is an amazing dish because you can use virtually anything that hangs about in your fridge and pantry. The idea is a simple one: make an emulsion of anchovies, butter, garlic and olive oil, add a little cracked pepper and keep it in a dish over a gentle candle flame. Use it as a dip. Great with any raw vegetable such as celery, carrot, zucchini, cardoons, bell pepper strips, artichoke….you know the drill.
For a few dips you will need the following: a pint of a really good olive oil, 12 cloves of garlic (finely minced), 20 or so anchovy fillets, 250 grams of chilled butter (half a pound), cut into little cubes and freshly milled black pepper. Stew the garlic in a little olive oil over a very low heat until soft, without browning. Add the anchovies and let them melt in the oil. Whisk the butter gradually into it and then add the rest of the oil, whisking through (a bit like making a mayonnaise, really). Add the pepper to your taste, place the dish over a candle warmer and have fun!
For those interested in a good mayonnaise recipe look no further than my mustard diary here.
Swiss chard, garlic and scallion pototo mash:
This is a twist on the ubiquitous potato mash. Get a bunch of Swiss chard (or kale), 2 pounds of russet potatoes (or any variety good for mash), sea salt & pepper to taste, and have your newly flavored olive oil bottle handy. Boil the peeled spuds in plenty salted water, and when nearly done add the chopped chards, leaf & stalks. Drain well and mash, adding generous amount of olive oil into it. If you want to take this further, place the mash into individual dishes, grate a bit of mature cheddar on top and place under the grill for a minute or two. You can substitute chard with bok choy for an Eastern take. I have made the same dish using sweet potato instead of the regular ones. Just as good.
Mediterranean olive & rosemary bread:
I can never tire of that bread. This recipe is for two loaves. Halve the ingredients it if you want less, double if you want more. I would use 3 cups of good bread flour, 2 teaspoons of dried yeast which you dissolve in a little warm water (note that if you are making this in the winter, dosage is ok, but use a half as much in the summer), half a cup of chopped Kalamata olives (or any black olives you might find but the Kalamata kind is very tasty), 4 tablespoons of virgin olive oil, a few sprigs of rosemary (cut the leaves roughly), 2 teaspoons of sea salt, and half a cup of warm water.
In a large bowl, mix together flour, warmed up yeast, salt & pepper, rosemary, black olives, olive oil, and water. Knead until smooth and elastic, 5 to 10 minutes (that’s the most fun you’ll have that day.) Set aside, and let rise about 45 minutes, until it doubles in size. Punch down. Knead well again, for about 4 to 5 minutes. Let rise again for about 30 minutes, until it doubles in size (this process allows for the bread to rise properly). On a floured kneading board cut the dough into two loaves. Put them both into a bread dish and sit them both in a large baking dish in which you have poured some water (this process known as bain-marie is done to make sure the bread is cooked evenly). Preheat oven to 500 degrees F (260 degrees C) and bake loaves for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) then bake for 30 more minutes, or until done.
This is a great dip, easy to make and great for digestion. Make sure you buy a tub (a pint) of Greek yogurt (or natural full, dairy yoghurt), 6 garlic cloves, 1/2 cup of Greek olive oil (Greek olive oil is somewhat darker and tastier than its Italian or Spanish counterpart), 1/2 sliced cucumber and the juice of 1 lemon, salt & pepper to taste..
Put the yogurt in a bowl. Put the garlic through a garlic press and using the edge of a knife, spread the garlic coming our of the press on the yogurt. Take the cucumber, peal the skin and slice it thinly. Mix the ingredients with a fork and slowly add the oil. The oil will be absorbed, and when it is done, the tzatzki is ready. I sometimes add a pinch of smoked paprika on top for extra taste.
Rigatoni pasta salad:
This is one of the simplest and quickest dish to prepare when in a hurry. Buy a pound of Rigatoni pasta, a pound of cherry tomatoes cut in halves, half a pound of fresh mozzarella sliced thinly, a handful of fresh basil leaves, the juice of 1 lemon, sea salt & black pepper to taste, a dash of balsamic vinegar and of course have your bottle of virgin oil on the ready.
Boil water and cook the pasta for about 10-12 minutes. When cooked, run under cold water. Drain and pat dry with kitchen paper. In a bowl place the pasta, add the sliced tomatoes and cut mozzarella with the basil leaves. Make a quick dressing using the lemon juice, salt & pepper, a dash of dark balsamic vinegar and pour the oil slowly, whisking it in. Pour over the salad and serve with crusty bread (preferably the olive bread you just have made)