olive oil strategies, from batali’s faves to d-i-y

olives in olive oil

Maria Robledo

In a recent interview on Nowness’ FB page, superstar chef Mario Batali was asked what olive oils he “swears by”. The answer:

“Da Vero from Healdsburg, Primo Olio from Sicilia, Castello di Ama  and Capezzana from Toscana.”

We’ve tasted three of the oils he mentioned and they ARE stunning, as well as pricey and not easy to come by, although worth every penny. A good olive oil can MAKE a dish, literally. Along with salt, it can be the only seasoning you need to turn say, a bowl of steamed wax beans from the farmer’s market, or a tomato or a slice of mozzarella, or a piece of grilled or slow-roasted fish into a perfect, ‘complete’ dish.

The world of olive oils is vast. Flavors range from pepper to grassy to herbal and on. A fine place to start learning about them is through Zingerman’s, a mail-order company who offers a wide range of carefully chosen oils, that you know will be in perfect shape. (We have tasted many an esoteric olive oil that was rancid from having been stored improperly.) Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating: How to Choose the Best Bread, Cheeses, Olive Oil, Pasta, Chocolate, and Much More is a reliable primer.

The problem for many folks we know is that these oils are just too expensive. What to do then? How to find a well-flavored economical olive oil for everyday use?

olive still life 394

Maria Robledo

Our solution is to doctor a decent supermarket extra-virgin olive oil (say, Monini or Berio) by infusing them with olives, a trick we learned from Anne Disrude, one of the most brilliant cooks we know.

Fill a beautiful jar half full of olives, and then cover them with an ordinary extra-virgin olive oil. The olives flavor the oil, giving it a truer olive flavor, and the oil in turn preserves the olives, which you can scoop out as you need them to serve as an hors d’oeuvres or use to flavor focaccia, pizza, pastas, stews and sauces. Knowing this simple technique means you never have to be caught with mediocre oil again.

You can make this oil with many different kinds of unpitted olives; we like a combination of brine-cured black and green olives that we buy loose at my local Italian market – whatever we like to eat. Avoid olives that have been highly flavored with herbs, garlic or wine, because they can overpower the oil.

Store the oil (with or without olives) in a tightly stoppered jar at room temperature but away from heat, up to 6 months. The olives are best if eaten within 2 months. After that, they begin to soften too much for eating, but are still good for cooking or to use in Warm Olivada.

Related posts: sally on ‘splendid table’ + recipe: sugar snaps with evo oil and shaved parmigiano
recipe: mamma lucia’s insalata di pomodoro (for when tomatoes are like gold)
kitchen ‘tools for smashing’ + recipe: warm crushed olives (olivada)
strategies: fresh fava beans (or soy beans or peas) + recipe
‘they draw and cook’, the visual recipe site

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