Olive Oil Granola

Today's breakfast!

Today’s breakfast! Granola topped fruit and yogurt.

Olive oil? In granola? Certo! (Certainly!) This idea offered to me by my sister-in-law Mirna, was worth exploring. I’ve made plenty of granola in the past and recently started craving it with my morning yogurt and fruit. A quick label read at the local healthy grocery store revealed that every single brand on the shelf from medium-priced to expensive all contained canola oil. As a canola oil rebel, I was disgusted that all these companies creating so-called nutritious and healthy cereals would be reluctant to add anything other than canola! Yes, I realize that canola oil has its benefits for some but I choose to eliminate it from my diet – GMO’s, pesticides, high heat processing – you get the picture. When the suggestion was made to substitute olive oil for canola oil, at first I suspected it might have a flavor incongruent to the cinnamon and maple syrup in the granola. I took the chance anyway. The results – the best granola I have ever made. I used my Galantino medium fruity EVOO but think it would be extraordinary with lemon or mandarin oil. The granola cooks at a very low temperature so the oil remains stable and holds onto all its health benefits. Because the ingredients in granola are personal, feel free to substitute your own favorite nuts or fruits. I love coconut and feel this adds the amount of sweetness I like. One trick I’ve learned over the years is to add the nuts and coconut nearing the end of the baking time so they do not over-toast. I stir in the dried fruit when the granola has cooled.
So for you brave hearts that try this delicious snack, please send me a comment and let me know how you liked it. I think it will make a great nibble at work!

Olive Oil Granola
 
Ingredients
  • Preheat oven to 225 degrees
  • 4 cups oatmeal   I use Trader Joe’s organic
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon  I used a bit more and love King Arthur’s Vietnamese Cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup Galantino EVOO   Try lemon or mandarin too!
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ¾ cup sweetened shredded coconut or unsweetened if you prefer1 cup nuts   I used ½ cup slivered almonds and ½ cup hazelnuts
  • ¼ cup tart dried cherries
  • ¼ – ½ cup dried fruit of your choice   I used Trader Joe’s mix of mango, dried blueberries and dried cranberries

Instructions
  1. Mix together the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.
  2. Combine the olive oil and maple syrup.
  3. Pour olive oil/syrup mixture over oats and stir to combine well.
  4. Pour out onto a 13 X 18 baking sheet lined with parchment paper. I do this so the pan stays cleaner! You can also use two smaller cookie sheets. If you use two cookie sheets, the layers are thinner so watch carefully as it will cook faster.
  5. Bake for about 2 hours or until desired crunchiness and well-browned. Stir every 20 minutes to evenly brown the oats. Just before the granola is finished, stir in the coconut and nuts and cook just until browned.
  6. Cool and stir in fruit of your choice.
  7. This granola is not clumpy. If you prefer it clumpy, give it a gentle stir and allow pieces to stick together.

Olive oil update: My next shipment arrives in a week! New EVOO flavors and even olives! Check out www.thevirtuousolive for the latest tasty products to be added to my line-up.

EVOO = Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Thanks for reading
Ciao for now!
Love,
Mary




Cucina Italia

This morning Angela is cooking rabbit – coniglio- for lunch. I hear Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’ s Door” before I even enter and find Angela and her friend Nicola at the large wooden kitchen table, each with a glass of homemade wine in hand. At first my eyes popped. Wine at 11:30? Then I realized that this dinner was really a lunch. I soon joined them and am surprised at the light and smooth flavor of the local red. Nicola, knowledegable in food, produce and things agricultural, begins to tell me the history of Tuscan cookery.

Between Angela’s lesson on making the rabbit, I quiz Nicola on the various types of fruits and vegetables, learning their Italian names. It’s amazing how much Italian I understand. I learn that Tuscan food has a strong French influence. Just my cup of tea.

Braised Rabbit with Olives

  • Brown the cut up rabbit in olive with three whole large cloves of garlic and a few pepperoncini- small red chiles.
  • Add three carrots, cut into two inch pieces, two stalks of celery, cut into one inch pieces and one small whole onion. Let this simmer for one half hour.
  • Add about a cup of fresh (or canned) chopped tomatoes along with pomodoro (tomato) water to half way cover the rabbit. Simmer 15 minutes more.
  • Add one cup of white wine. Simmer another half hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. A. slightly thickened sauce forms. Add more pomodoro water if too dry. At the end, stir in a handful of olives.

Olive trees outside the kitchen almost ready tp pick.

Angela and her husband Davino also make their own olive oil. Eager to taste the Tuscan variety, I found a spoon and poured myself a drink. Very smooth with a slight hint of heat on the throat at the end. Delightful. I learn that Tuscan oil is softer and lighter than its kissing cousin in Puglia which has a much more forward bite and heat. I love the diversity.

As the wine flowed, we eat an antipasti of marinated artichokes and olives both made by Angela. The baby artichokes are trimmed (they feed the trimmings to the donkeys which I haven’t seen yet) boiled 10 minutes in salted water and drained overnight. The next day they are submerged in a large jar of olive oil, dried peppers and peppercorns and left to marinate for three months.

Angela’s baby marinated artichokes

Olives brined with cinnamon sticks.

Fresh green beans are trimmed. Angela shows me how to “cook” the garlic and pepperoncinis in a small amount of olive oil just until they soften. We then add the beans and what else but tomatoes and cook on the stove 20 minutes.

Cooking the garlic and pepperoncinis in hot olive oil.
Fresh green beans added to the hot oil.

While we are cooking, Davino is slicing prosciutto on their red antique slicer to feed the cats and us.

The kitchen. On the right is the red antique prosciutto slicer.

We eat al fresco under an arbor of dangling grapes. The rain has cleared and the sun is breaking through. All the dishes are brought to the table and we serve ourselves family style.

This is Italian!

After a delicious lunch, the meal is finalized with dolce but just not any kind of dessert. Today we are eating chestnuts from this property that have been boiled with bay leaves and spices. They are served warm. Davino demonstrates how to peel first the outer layer then the inner to discover the soft white flesh inside. Delicioso!

Like mini bon bons! Dessert of boiled chestnuts.

Using a knife, carefully peel off the hard outer shell then again the thinner skin.

A cup of espresso and I am ready for a nap. Grazie Angela and Davino for sharing your home and bounty of La Mimosa with me.

Tigre doesn’t miss a beat taking every opportunity to look for leftovers.

Ciao,

Maria




Autumn Earth

Fall is a season of contrasts. Besides the obvious color change of leaves, there is a distinct softness in the air, a kind of fuzzy morning haze, with warm afternoons, cool evenings and if you’re lucky and the skies are clear, a chance of a green flash over the ocean with the setting sun. I love this time to reflect on what has grown, in my life and my garden, and the sweet anticipation of what’s to come.

My garden also is a contrast of various stages of growth. The Angel Pomegranate tree I planted last summer has gifted me five garnet red beauties. It has doubled in size and I imagine will continue to multiply its harvest next year. The Meyer Lemon is heavy with green fruit that is beginning to turn yellow for a most likely January crop. My raised bed gardens are filling up with young plants. I started chicory, kale, lettuce and beets from seeds. It’s so interesting to be able to identify the plants when they are so tiny!

Baby kale just learning its identity.

Romaine lettuce – very assertive.

Although not yet recognizable, these will be transformed into red and golden beets. So lovely.

Fava Beans started from seedlings. The anchor of my Italian garden.

Speaking of Italy, in a few days I embark on another adventure, this time to Tuscany. I’m staying on an agritourisimo (farm) for two weeks and immersing myself into the country lifestyle. This is the beginning of the olive harvest season and I am hoping to learn the craft of making olive oil with my farm family. Tune in for recipes I gather as I meet and cook with the locals and savor the foods of the season. The ancient cultures have so much wisdom to impart. I’ll keep my eyes, ears and heart open to learn from them as well as continue my search for Black Madonnas. Let the journey begin!

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Ciao for now!

Mary (Maria)




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




Eating Crudo

Today's catch

Today’s catch

One afternoon in Pulia, our tour host Mick, asked if anyone would like to join him for a “Crudo” dinner. Crudo, in Italian means raw. We all had puzzled looks on our faces. As he explained what it was and how it was prepared, my hand shot up as a participant. When in Rome.

Certain restaurants that have a “Crudo” designation have met all the criteria for cleanliness, freshness and procurement from reputable fishermen. Because I enjoy sushi, I was curious to taste the difference.

French tuna drenched in olive oil. Can fresh be fresher than fresh?

Fresh tuna drenched in olive oil. Can fresh be fresher than fresh?

Several dishes were set at the table to share. Crudo is not like sushi. There is no wasabi, only lemon slices. The Italians prefer to serve their seafood with a dash of high quality (what else?) olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. Some of the dishes did include a flavor, like the octopus with fresh mint and the cooked shrimp with fresh pineapple.

We did have a few cooked dishes like this shrimp with mint.

We did have a few cooked dishes like this shrimp with mint and pineapple.

The most delectable fried calamari my mouth has ever tasted.

The most delectable fried calamari my mouth has ever tasted.

One of my favorite fish to eat crudo was the swordfish. Sliced paper thin and layered on the plate drizzled with olive oil, its only garnish, a smattering of pink peppercorns and a few bits of spring greens. The pretty red dots that lined the curve of the fish revealed that is was unmistakably swordfish. So sweet and tender and mild. It hit my tongue and dissolved with its saltiness. The tuna was also sliced thin, unlike thicker chunks of sashimi.

Decadent swordfish. Warning: My local fish monger advised against eating swordfish raw here. It must be impeccibly fresh.

Decadent swordfish. Warning: My local fish monger advised against eating swordfish raw here. It must be impeccably fresh.

Something I had never seen or eaten before were red shrimp. These vibrant red creatures shimmered on the plate and tasted of a silky brine, the texture at first jello-y, then with a lobster bite.

Seductive red shrimp

Seductive red shrimp. Aren’t they stunning?

The oysters slid down ever so sweetly – the best I have ever had – or was it because I was in Italy? Raw mussels and clams also graced the table.

Seafood crudo galore.

Seafood crudo galore.

We had eaten cuttlefish, a squid like cephalopod, as an antipasti but not crudo. Crunchy and salty is the best way to describe the experience. The texture is similar to octopus and squid. A delicious side dish of black rice, tiny cubed carrots and corn were the accompaniment to the crudo.

Just enough of a flavor contrast to compliment the raw seafood.

Just enough of a flavor contrast to compliment the raw seafood.

After filling our senses with all the salty flavors of the crudo, we were offered a crudité platter of fresh radishes, Barattino cucumber, sliced in wedges like a cantaloupe, raw fava beans and chicory heart. I had never tasted fresh chicory before. It is unlike what we know as chicory here. The bulb looks like fennel but the flavor is mild and sweet. A perfect palate cleanser. I am researching how to grow it.  After explaining it to one of my dear friends, she purchased some seeds for me from an Italian seed company. They will be planted this fall and I will anxiously await their appearance in my garden.

Refreshing and also raw!

Refreshing and also raw!

Two things capped off this incredible dinner. A very icey, almost liquidy fresh lemon sorbet with just a hint of sweetness, not to be out done by the strawberries it was mingling with. Heavenly.

My mouth waters just looking at this photo!

My mouth waters just looking at this photo!

The owner, acknowledging our extreme pleasure in this meal, treated us to an Italian digestive, Amari Mere, a slightly bitter, herbal flavor that grows on you as you sip.

Per la salute! To your health!

Per la salute! To your health!

With an abundance of wine included in this dinner, the bill was about $40 each. When I return to Pulignano a Mare someday, this restaurant will be at the top of my dining list!

Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture.
-Mark Kurlansky (1948 – present)

Ciao Bella!

Maria




Cassis – a seaside treasure

When I think of seaside villages I’d like to visit, quaint comes to mind. My vision includes somewhere petite, void of tourists, with charming cafes brimming with fresh local specialties, small fishing boats lining the wharf, an unpretentious air, and clean, clear blue water. Do these places really exist other than some remote tropical island in the middle of the ocean? At first I thought Cassis (pronounced Casee) would be that typical touristy seaside resort. After driving through Marseille, a rambunctious sprawling city, on the way to Cassis, I realize that anything else has to be more civilized and polite. By the way, Cassis is a delicious black currant liqueur usually poured into a champagne flute followed by, what else, champagne and is called a “kir.” This dark purple liqueur originated in eastern Burgundy and is not affiliated with the village of Cassis.

This fits my petite and quaint criteria. I adore the pastel colored houses which frame the wharf.

The road to Cassis is windy with sharp turns and glimpses of ocean. The route we want to take called the Route des Cretes, for even more of a thrill, traverses steep cliffs overlooking the sea but is closed for construction. Disappointed, we look for other roads into the city.  A very friendly woman gives us more directions than we can handle, and with our CD-learned French, we smile happily, thank her profusely and head downward which seemed in the right direction to the ocean. Soon we are in the neighborhood. Nous arrive!

I love the view of this fortress admiring the simple, but classy ville below.

Watching the other cars, we take note and park up the hill, avoiding the one-way streets and possible crowds below. We follow a steep cobblestone street, which luckily lands us smack dab in the middle of town.

The ambiance is overwhelming. So many cafes to choose from.

Cassis is small for such a popular seaside village. It rests at the bottom of a hill and has views of sea, sky and old fortresses. Intimate and colorful cafes line a short wharf, lined with fishing boats the size of an olive tree. To me, this is an indication that the fish on the menu is pulled out of the ocean daily. As we start to relax and settle into the warmth of the heating sun, we notice that this is not a tourist magnet. Café tables are filled with locals congregating for lunch. The vibe is low key and not frantic. Life slows down a notch. Eager for a seafood lunch, the restaurant we choose with the tastiest menu selections will close soon so we cannot be seated. The French definitely adhere to their lunch and afternoon time off schedules. A few cafes away, Café Cesar is happy to accommodate us.  The menu looks basic, but basic it is not. Naively I order a shrimp cocktail and Bonnie an octopus salad. While waiting for our lunches, delicious aromas fill the air and our eyes follow the platters coming out of the kitchen brimming with fish and sauces and heaps of prawns and mussels. Blatantly, we stare at the table next to us and wonder why we didn’t order what they had. When our plates arrive, we are pleasantly surprised to see chunks of strikingly purple octopus and salmon colored prawns generously piled high on a bed of fresh, green, gorgeous lettuce, drizzled with a tangy and flavorful dressing. All the salads we have been fortunate to eat in France have been artistically presented and hearty.

The octopus melted in your mouth – so tender and gushing with flavors of herbs and vinegars.

Merci for the delicious dejuener!

I ordered a shrimp cocktail and this is what I got! Incredible and the crevettes (shrimp) taste of a clean and fresh sea.

The ocean sits a short walk from the cafes. There are smells of suntan lotion and briny sea air.  Squeals of joy and sounds of giggling and laughter provide the accent for the splashing waves in the background. Scantily clad men and women of all ages relish in the sunshine and warm water. Groups of friends gather to enjoy a day at the beach. I know there are tourists here, including us, but it seems more local than “touristy.” The Mediterranean glistens with hues of aquamarine blues and greens, sharing its saltiness in the breeze. Yes, this is a place I could spend a few days.

Dancing with the sea.

Such a gorgeous day to spend with friends.

We try to fit in but really needed to be in bathing suits!

After dipping our toes in the warm water, and soaking up a few rays, I am now hungry for ice cream. It seems like everyone is carrying a cone of some sort, stuffed with chocolate, vanilla and other flavors of the south. On the main street, a gelato shop called Amorino catches our eye with the colorful ices in the window. You order by the size of the container and can choose as many flavors as will fit into that size. I think I squeeze in about six tastes ranging from noisette and strawberry to coffee and nougatine. Every melting bite is delicious.

Amorino love.

Every region has its own specialties and shops that show them off. I am lured into one by baskets of perfectly shaped cookies with flavors of anise, rosemary, chocolate and lemon. Local olive oils and vinegars, herbes de Provence, lavender and jams also line the shelves. I buy a 4 oz. bottle of lemon basil olive oil that has a spray top so you can mist your salads. I also purchase rose wine vinegar infused with herbes de Provence with the same spray top. So clever. The creative packaging shows the typical French artistic flair. Rows of jams, baskets of marshmallow sticks, and tins of dried herbs have my camera clicking. What I like about stores like these is they are not a chain and an artisan is in the back, creating all the edible showpieces for which Provence is famous.

Marshmallow sticks including the flavor “cola.”

A terrific selection of pungent oils and tangy vinegars awaits us.

I love the packaging and especially love that these herbs are local and organic.

Spectacular candied fruits are a specialty of the region.

Our day in beautiful Cassis has ended but leaves us with fond memories of a relaxed and laid back fishing village, full of color and warmth. I will return.

Look for my weekly posts on food and travel in which I will share more stories of France and soon-to-come recipes.