I was recently in an organic market and sampled some of the finest olive oil I've ever tasted. I bought a bottle, and I'm now looking for ways to maximize my enjoyment of it. I'm familiar with dipping bread into the oil, and this seems to bring out the taste with few distractions. On the other hand, mixing the oil in a salad dressing hides some of the qualities among all the other tastes (herbs, vinegar, etc.). My question is, what are some simple ways to maximize the enjoyment of olive oil?
In this part of the world, around the rim of the mediterranean, olive oils is very definitely used to dress a salad. This is not usually done by emulsifying everything in a shaker though. Generally, the salad is seasoned with salt and pepper, then drizzled generously with olive oil and a little lemon juice or good wine/balsamic vinegar. This allows the flavour of the oil to stand, and it is nicely complemented by the other secondary flavours.
Olive oil is also used to complement the flavour of fish, baked in foil in the oven after being brushed with olive oil and seasonings. This imparts a special aroma and flavour to the fish.
The best, and simplest in my opinion, is when for supper or breakfast we just slice some vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, carrots) and drizzle them with olive oil, to be eaten as part of the meal.
A good oil is enjoyable in any dish, but if you want the taste of the oil to dominate, there is no better vehicle than starch. First, starchy foods don't have strong aromas on their own, so they don't overpower the oil. Seond. Pure oil is unpleasantly heavy. Starches do a good job of soaking themselves up with the oil, allowing you to use more oil without the food becoming greasy.
My favorit way to showcase oils is a veloute. This is a sauce made from a very light roux and light stock. I prefer chicken or vegetable stock for that (but no ushrooms, their umami makes it too strong for my taste). I combine this sauce with blandish meat (chicken breasts, or boiled pork). It also goes well with vegetables which have a weaker taste and don't hve much freshness, grassy notes or acidity. White asparagus and zucchini work great, tomatoes are definitelly out. I/e had people eat my sauce of this type with another starch (rice, spelt noodles), but I don't like this combination much.
Other starchy combinations than a roux are definitelly possible. You can make mashed potatoes and use the oil instead of butter, you can use it in a pilaf... Just let your phantasy run free.
No matter how you use it, there are two things to consider. First, the taste is enhanced when the oil is served warm. But don't take it to frying temperatures, that ruins the taste (there is a reason for "cold pressed"). Second, make only very delicate flavor combinations. Combine with a single herb/spice, or not at all. Don't use herbs and spices which are too strong (e.g. Spearmint). If you use herbs, this is one of the rare situations where dried herbs are preferrable.
If you want a protein-based pairing, there are still ideas to work with. For example a simple bean soup (ripe beans) with lots of oil in it (lentil should work too). Or pieces of cheese (feta is best) drizzed with the oil, served as antipasti. Again, avoid strong aromas from other ingredients.
Turkish cuisine has an entire 'branch' dedicated to olive oil dishes. Vegetables such as green beans, eggplants, leeks or artichokes are simmered in a great deal of olive oil along with tomatoes, onions and red pepper paste.
The simmer is as light as possible and is done for a while - about 45 minutes for a pound of green beans. Served cold, the dish is entirely imparted with the taste and slickness of the olive oil and is delicious with yogurt and crusty bread.
Although it may not be considered a 'pure' taste since it is diluted with the water of the tomato and other ingredients, the olive oil is the dominant flavor in the dish and a higher quality olive oil always shines through. The low temperature of cooking also probably better preserves the flavor of it.
Here are some good places to get started:
I'd start with dishes containing the vegetables above, as they are generally the most popular. The 'standard' olive oil dish is green beans in olive oil - both links above have their own versions, but I would recommend my family's version. This omits ingredients such as garlic and sugar that, while delicious, aren't really necessary and are probably better off ignored when looking to maximize the flavor of the olive oil. This is my mom's:
I second @Carmi's last idea, because after all simplicity is beautiful! I got this once in a restaurant in Emiglia Romagna as antipasti, and continue to redo it every now and then. Be sure to blow your friends minds to serve raw vegetables with incredible taste while waiting for the next course ;-)
Fill a bowl with fine sea salt (be surprised to taste different salts, some of them are delicious!) and add your olive oil. Chop raw vegetables of the season like carrots, cucumber, peppers or whatever is available on your fresh, local market. Dip the vegetables and make sure to also take up some salt from the bottom of the bowl.
Remaining olive oil can be reused.
Using olive oil in a meal/sauce that has a frying period;
For the frying period I use another vegetable oil like sunflower oil (just sufficent enough to fry, not too much) and when I finish with the frying period and after adding all other ingredients, then on top of all I add 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil and leave it to cook. The reason of adding olive oil later is to get the best taste of olive oil without burning it.
*When two different oils are combined, the total amount of oil should be taken care of in order not to use too much oil.
Olive oil; as ready as to be a "starter" with a piece of bread, so there is a plenty of varieties to try, such as:
- after flavouring it with some thyme (hand grated), I use it for cooking baked meat + vegetable dishes .
- after flavouring it with desired herb(s ) and/or spices, I simply split it over cheese/olives to enrich the taste of them.
I also use olive oil in baking fish; especially big ones (with parsley, onion, bay leaf & lemon slice).
salad; I use sour tastes(lemon, vinegar etc.) balanced not to dominate the salad and as a last step, I add olive oil and leave it to rest just for 5 minutes at room teprature before serving. (just 5 minutes, not over in order not to ruin my fresh salad!)
one Italian lazy classic is to use the oil to dress pasta. Of course, the quality of the pasta becomes fundamental: you should get at least Barilla.
Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water, drain very thoroughly, plate, drizzle olive oil with a generous but wise hand. I like mine with grated Parmesan cheese. A pinch of black pepper may help. No oregano, no basil, nothing else, NOOOOOTHIN' (you should imagine me speaking with a thick Italian accent here).