The Virtuous Olive

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The Virtuous Olive

Olive oil is my passion. Food is my passion and travel is my passion. I have decided to combine all these loves into my new business, The Virtuous Olive, and it is here that I am first announcing its launch. After last year’s visit to Puglia, Italy and to a local frantoio, (olive mill), my heart spoke to me and insisted that I import this olive oil. This is not just any olive oil. It is 100% pure extra virgin Italian oil made from olives solely grown in Puglia. Its flavor is lovely, distinct and makes a statement.

Italian Bootie from my trip last year.

Italian Bootie from my trip last year. I finished this lot off pronto and knew it had to be a part of my permanent pantry!

Next week I travel to Puglia to learn from the masters at Galantino all the nuances that make olive oil special. We will cook, olive grove gaze and be immersed in all things olive. This is just my cup of tea. I plan to post recipes, insights and historical facts as well as indulging in some amazing food. Puglia, also known as the heel of Italy’s boot, is magical and unspoiled and filled with warm, welcoming faces. Click here to see a map of the region and to read about its baroque architecture, trulli, music and artisans who inhabit this piece of paradise. Puglia map and highlights

My travels will also take me back to Lucca, where I will stay with two opera singers (Lucca is Puccini central) and renew friendships from last year. I plan to visit Modena, capital of balsamic vinegar, to discover the perfect balsamic to complement my beautiful oils. My foodie and adventuress spirit will be soaring!

My website and shop, www.thevirtuousolive, will be stocked with a variety of olive oils and vinegars, and open for business after I return, mid October. Stay tuned for more details.

Sending you amore!

Ciao for now,

Mary – Maria

 

 




A Spontaneous Dinner Party

My friends Meghan and Nick devouring the shitake mushrooms al' Italiana

My friends Meghan and Nick devouring the shiitake mushrooms italiano

Sometimes you just need to get out of the norm. Last night I planned a dinner party but did not plan the menu, hence a spontaneous dinner! I prefer to cook “with” friends rather than “for” friends.

Cooking together is such a personal experience. You get to spend quality time with people you like and share great food and wine. Food definitely speaks to people’s souls and activates openness in communication at a deeper level than any way I know.

When my young friends, Meghan and Nick asked me if I would show them a few ways to expand their vegetarian repertoire, I eagerly agreed. Assisting me with this event was Eva, a fabulous cook and bread baker, with a brilliant mind for improvising. Instead of just sharing my favorite recipes, I thought it would be fun to do a spontaneity themed dinner. By this I mean, have lots of great ingredients on hand, a few ideas to get started, then let the creativity flow. And flow it did into an explosion of flavors and colors.

Farm fresh ingredients, a zingy dressing and a mouthful of flavor.

Farm fresh ingredients, a zingy dressing and a mouthful of flavor.

Here’s what we started with and how it played out for a delicious spring dinner.

Our ingredients: Fennel, spinach, zucchini, red peppers, red onions, yellow onions, garlic, shallots, fresh basil, beets, yellow pear tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, parsley, oranges, feta cheese, walnuts, pine nuts, garbanzo beans, Dijon mustard, breadcrumbs and LOTS of great olive oil.

For starters I share a shiitake mushroom appetizer my Italian friend taught me. We ate them so fast that I almost forgot to take a photo!

Delectable, easy appetizer with a happiness factor included for free!

Delectable, easy appetizer. They go quickly so make lots!

Drizzle the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil. Place about 12 medium shiitake mushrooms (for four people) on the dish, stems straight up. Drizzle more olive oil on top, sprinkle with a generous amount of finely chopped garlic and parsley, sprinkle with salt and top with breadcrumbs. A final drizzle of oil on top, then pop into a 400-degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Eat hot right out of the oven when preparing the other courses.

These mushrooms seriously make everybody happy!

These mushrooms seriously elicit the happiness factor in us all!

Eva approves!

Eva approves!

The rest of the dinner unfolded like we were following a recipe, but we weren’t. Fresh fennel, sliced thin, combined with orange slices, sliced red onion, chopped parsley, and Eva’s vinaigrette made with mandarin orange olive oil and the juice of the orange. This was the favorite, next to the shiitake!

The fennel salad gets a final drizzle of orange vinaigrette.

The fennel salad gets a final drizzle of orange vinaigrette.

My beet harvest consisted of one giant beet. Yes, I planted about 20 seedlings I grew from seeds, but only one survived.

The ruby lines of my beet sing of nature's simplicity.

The ruby lines of my beet sing of nature’s simplicity.

I ended up with the biggest beet ever and sliced it thinly into rings, then roasted them. Next I cut the beet slices into triangles and made a “pickle” of white balsamic vinegar, cider vinegar, bay leaf, peppercorns and a dash of olive oil. This would be the heart of a spinach salad.

Our array of ingredients for the spinach and beet salad.

Our array of ingredients for the spinach and beet salad.

To beef up the salad we added garbanzo beans, walnuts and halved yellow pear tomatoes. The dressing came from the pickling marinade.

Colorful, healthy and infused with flavor.

Colorful, healthy and infused with flavor.

For a main entrée, we decided on a roasted veggie pasta. The propane on my grill breathed its final breath so I ended up grilling the veggies on the stove. We grilled onions, red peppers and zucchini and tossed them with penne pasta, chunks of pecorino cheese, fresh basil and a generous amount of basil olive oil. Most of us also dressed our personal bowls of pasta with a generous splash of garlic olive oil. Delicioso!

In my opinion, you can never add too much olive oil!

In my opinion, you can never add too much olive oil!

Sharing good food, friendships and laughter is always good for the soul.

Sharing good food, friendships and laughter is always good for the soul.

For dessert, I had prepared my favorite go-to lemon olive oil cake with fresh strawberries drenched in limoncello.

Get the recipe here: Lemon Olive Oil Cake

A moist cake with an almost herbal flavor from the fruity olive oil.

A moist cake with an almost herbal flavor from the fruity olive oil.

Such a whirlwind of activity, chatter and light-hearted fun. I really enjoy cooking this way and recommend it to anyone who wants to have a relaxing cooking experience, expand their mind and their culinary collection.

By the way, the olive oil I use, and love, is Galantino from the southern heel of Puglia in Italy. I will soon be importing these fine oils and have them for sale on my website.

Ciao and love for now!

Mary




Olives – Fruit of the Gods

Olive country

Olive country

Olive oil is so – Italian! Its warmth and/or sassiness can jazz up almost any dish, imparting different nuances for whatever food you want to enhance. The Italians are proud of their olive heritage and like to joke that butter is “forbidden” in Pulia. Instead of butter at the table, one often finds a bottle of local oil for dipping bread or topping off pastas and salads.

I am “in amore” with olive oil and use it daily but now have a renewed appreciation for its origin and its flavor. One of the highlights of my trip to Pulia was touring a 19th century olive mill and farm called Galantino.

The family that started it all.

The family that started it all.

Galantino is dedicated to the entire process of producing exquisite oil, sustainably with the least amount of impact on Mother Earth. Most of the olives for their oils are grown on the estate from their over 15,000 trees. Olives are harvested in mid October through December and then crushed within a few hours and never more than 24 hours.

Giant rounds of granite for the gentle press.

Mighty blocks of granite for the gentle press.

Giant granite rounds, which ensure a gentle, cool press, crush the olives employing the same techniques as the ancient Romans thousands of years ago. If the desired result is lemon infused olive oil, fresh lemons are crushed along with the olives. This method creates a bright, authentic fresh taste that makes my tongue revel with each sip.

Lemon infusion.

Lemon infusion.

Our Italian guides gave us a lesson in tasting olive oil. Similar to tasting wine, you follow a protocol. Visually, look for a yellow/green/olive color; smell the aroma, an olive scent with tones of grass, almonds, flowers; and then sip. Taste first under the tongue for sweet and fruity. The next taste should be bitter and the third taste, hot, peppery, spicy. If you taste all these elements in a balanced and harmonious fashion, there is no added filler oil commonly included in less expensive olive oils.

A specialty oil called L’Affiorato is the hand skimmed top 2-3% of the freshly pressed olives that naturally rises to the top of the olive paste after milling. Its exquisite, delicate and fruity flavor lends itself beautifully as finishing oil.

The many flavors we tasted.

Many of the infused flavors we tasted.

After our lesson in the production of olive oil, our host, Massimo, led us into an enchanting gazebo-covered garden where a tasting and lunch awaited us. A plate with the olive oil to be tasted was passed around accompanied by chunks of Italian bread. A unison of “oohs” and “ahs” sang out with the first taste of the olive oil soaked bread. From subtle to spicy, the distinguished flavors filled every sense in my body: the beautiful surrounding, the smell of the blossoming lemon trees, the romantic Italian accents, the feel of happiness and warmth for just being here and finally the taste of purity, of Italy, of love. I was in heaven.

Surrounded by citrus and olives.

Surrounded by citrus and olives.

Following the tasting, Galantino’s chef prepared a lunch spread, antipasto style, using all the oils we had just tasted. A visual feast, I could taste each dish with my eyes. Jugs of local, delicious wine graced the tables.

Antipasto style!

Antipasto style!

Colorful and as delicious as it looks.

Colorfully delicious.

A more familiar caprese.

A more familiar caprese. The Italian cheese is so creamy.

New friends.

New friends.

Pasta called "calamarata" probably because it looks like little calamari rings. Served with a fondue of pecorino.

Pasta called “calamarata” probably because it looks like little calamari rings.
Served with a fondue of pecorino.

Sharing our enthusiasm for the food of southern Italy.

Sharing our enthusiasm for the food of southern Italy.

The dessert, a mandarin olive oil cake, moist and not overly sweet was simple yet sophisticated. When asked about ingredients in the cake, the chef graciously gave us the recipe verbally.

Mandarin olive oi cake served with orange sorbet, drizzled with more olive oil!

Mandarin olive oil cake served with orange sorbet, drizzled with more olive oil!

Our bellies full and our minds, just a little fuzzy from the wine, we head down a pathway to their retail store. A shopping frenzy ensued. We are handed forms to fill out so we can have our “taste of Italy” shipped back home. Since my mom and I decided that olive oil is our souvenir of the trip, we shop with abandon. We both love to cook so I know we will use all the flavors within the year- a time frame for freshness.

Mom deciding what to buy. Too many choices!

Mom deciding what to buy. Too many choices!

The helpful, handsome Italian men help us with our orders and assure us our oils will arrive in about two weeks time. The anticipation is already killing me!

I keep reflecting upon the genuineness, if that is a word, of this company and their high standards. Granite, sustainable, local, sweet, bitter, hot and peppery are the images etched in my memory of this enlightening trip.

Recipe for the Mandarin Olive Oil Cake

My mom and I tested the recipe given to us by Galantino’s chef and here it is with a few tweaks and twists. The texture is like a moist sponge cake, the aroma out of the oven resembles a lemon angel food cake – dreamy! Feel free to improvise with orange olive oil.

Lemon Olive Oil Cake
 
Ingredients
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Line the bottom of a 8-9” springform pan with parchment paper. Oil the bottom and sides of the pan with olive oil.
  • ⅓ cup lemon infused olive oil or the best extra virgin olive oil you have on hand (75ml)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup plus 1 Tbls. sugar (200 gr.)
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1½ cups plus 2 Tbls. all purpose flour (200 gr.)
  • 2 ¾ tsp. baking powder (10 gr.)
  • pinch of salt

Instructions
  1. Stir together the oil, eggs, sugar and zest.
  2. Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the oil and stir gently just until incorporated.
  4. Bake for 30- 35 minutes. Test that a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Cool in pan for 15 minutes. Run a knife along the sides and release the bottom of the pan from the sides. Cool completely.
  6. Serve with any fruit, cream, ice cream or gelato. This cake holds up well to an assortment of fillings and can be made ahead. There are so many ways to serve this simple dessert. You can also split the layer in half, fill the cake with whipped cream and sprinkle on some fresh berries or slices of summer fruit.

 

 

Garnished lemon olive oil cake with fresh orange slices and whipped cream.

Garnished lemon olive oil cake with fresh orange slices and whipped cream.Let me know your versions!

The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of the human race than the discovery of a star.  Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Ciao for now!

Mary/Maria