Continuing with our list of essential items to have on hand in an Italian kitchen, next up is olive oil, or as Rachael calls it, EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). This will become one of the more critical ingredients in your new Italian life as you will use it for both cooking foods and straight out of the bottle on things like salads and breads. Some say EVOO has healing qualities-did you ever see Lorenzo’s Oil with Susan Sarandon? One thing is for sure, it is a healthy alternative to butter (not that we don’t love butter but that’s for the Northern Italians) and if you get a good kind, the taste is delicioso.
Olive Oil is made by crushing, then pressing ripened olives and extracting oil from them. The first pressing of the olives produces the purest and most intensely flavored oils with the lowest acidity, but the next few runs through the press also create lighter but flavorful oils. This all happens to olives that look nothing like the ones you buy in the store. You either buy green or black olives, called Sicilian or Kalamata, for example, that are usually stored in some kind of brine or salt. These olives would not taste so good if they were not cured, but once they are, they take on a variety of flavors-some more bitter than others. For a milder olive, you can try the canned black olives that are not only ripe, but they have been pitted and the bitterness has been removed. These guys taste almost buttery and are a good introduction to the olive for a child. I still remember putting one on the tip of each finger and playing olive hands! Then of course there’s the pimiento-stuffed olives that also bring me back to my childhood (remember olive loaf?).
It all starts with the tree. The Arabs brought the fabled Saracen olive tree to Sicily, but beautiful olives grow all throughout Europe and the Middle East in a variety of colors and sizes. Luscious greens, deep reds and blacks all represent different kinds of olives and different stages in their lives. Some argue that the best olive oils come from Spain, some say Italy. You do need to make sure you get your oils from a reputable sources because some companies will label their oils as “Italian olive oil” simply because the product passed through Italy on its way to America. We happen to love Rachael’s EVOO made by Colavita.
Here are some of Rachael’s dishes using good EVOO: