Archive for: olive oil
I was inspired by a recent trip to an olive oil farm to do a little baking with olive oil. Vegetable oil, canola oil and other flavorless oils are the standard when it comes to baking. Olive oil isn’t often used because it has a distinct, and sometimes strong, flavor that just isn’t going to enhance all recipes. That said, olive oil can be a great addition to a recipe when that fruity, olive flavor is allowed to stand out and these Orange Olive Oil Muffins are a great example of that.
The muffins use olive oil as their primary fat, where other similar recipes might use butter, and get most of their flavor from the oil itself and from the orange juice in the batter. Since there aren’t too many competing flavors here, the flavors of the olives do stand out. They don’t make the muffin savory (there is plenty of sugar to keep them sweet), but they do make the muffin richer and more complex than a plain oil would. Fresh orange juice gives these muffins a bright citrus flavor without overwhelming the olive oil. Sprinkling the tops of the muffins with sugar before baking makes the tops crispy and adds a nice contrast to the fluffy interior of the muffins.
The key to baking with olive oil is to choose an extra virgin olive oil that you really like the flavor of. You’re not going to like the flavor any more once it’s in a muffin or cake, so choose something good to start out with. These muffins are great with plain oils, but I also tried them with the incredibly good Mandarin Olive Oil from Ojai Olive Oil that really brightened up the orange flavor even more. That particular oil has an amazing mandarin orange flavor and is as good for dressing salads as it is for baking up muffins like these.
When you think about olive oil, you probably think about Spain, which grows and produces the majority of the world’s olive oil, or of Italy, Greece and a handful of other Mediterranean countries where olive oil is produced. You probably don’t think about California, even though the Mediterranean climate of much of the state provides a great environment for planting olive trees and producing olive oil. California currently produces just 0.1% of the world’s olive oil and only 1% of the olive oil annually consumed within the United States. It might be a small number, but California olive oil is very accessible to locals and visitors to the state and many olive oil producers offer tours and tastings. Ojai Olive Oil is a great example. This is a family-owned olive orchard and olive oil producer in Ojai, California that offers free tours and tastings to visitors year round.
On a recent trip through Ojai, I made it a point to stop by Ojai Olive Oil and go to a tasting for myself. The farm offers visits by appointment during the week and has an open house policy on Saturdays, where you can drop in without calling ahead. The tours are run by Ron Asquith, the owner of Ojai Olive Oil, who starts out with a talk that offers great insight to olives in general, as well as great information about how the olives and grown, harvested and pressed into oil at his farm. Ojai Olive Oil has been around for just over a decade, but olive trees have been grown on that land for more than 130 years. There are more than 2000 trees in the grove, a mix of young trees and rejuvenated older trees that had been left untended for years. Like grapes used to make wine, there are a number of different varieties of olives grown to produce olive oil. Ojai Olive Oil growns Frantoio, Leccino, Nocelara del Belice, Pendolino, Columella, Kalamata and Lechin de Sevilla olives.
I want to have a fancy name for this dish, but I just can’t bring myself to call it anything other than what it is: roasted tomatoes with olive oil. I make this all the time with fresh tomatoes in the summer and it is one of the easiest and best ways to enjoy fresh tomatoes – apart from simply slicing them and eating them as they are, of course.
All you need are a bunch of fresh tomatoes, some olive oil and some salt and pepper. Toss everything together and roast the tomatoes until they’re tender. Then scrape all of those tender tomatoes into a bowl with some more olive oil and use it as a dip for bread (or anything else you might think goes well with it). Roasting really brings out the sweetness in the tomatoes.
I use a mix of tomatoes for this, depending on what I have. Large tomatoes can be cut into medium-thick slices and place on a baking sheet for roasting, while cherry tomatoes can simply be added whole. I will admit that cherry tomatoes, or other very small tomatoes, are my favorites, but all tomatoes will work well for this recipe. Use a good quality olive oil – one that you like the flavor of – because you’re going to taste it in the finished product, just as you would taste the flavor of the olive oil when you’re simply using it with vinegar as a dip for a nice piece of bread.
I’m always looking for a new variation on strawberry shortcake because I can’t resist putting fresh summer strawberries to good use in my kitchen. Strawberry shortcakes are always one of my favorite options. They’re easy to make and you use the berries when they are freshly sliced, so you can really appreciate that ripe berry sweetness. And while I like a berry by itself, having a strawberry with a bit of cake and whipped cream just makes it even better.
When I took a bite of the Saffron and Olive Oil Cake that I made recently, I immediately knew that it would make the perfect strawberry shortcake base. The cake has a tight, tender crumb and a mildly sweet flavor. You get a slight fruitiness from the olive oil in the cake (use a good quality olive oil that you like the flavor of). I knew that the berries would really stand out against it. I made it again and omitted the saffron – although it is good with that saffron flavor, too - then sliced the cake in half and piled it full of fresh strawberries and lightly sweetened whipped cream.
You’ll notice that I spiked the whipped cream with a little bit of plain, Greek-style yogurt. This makes it a little bit more substantial – although it does make it a little bit runnier than whipped cream alone – and the slight tang of the yogurt really helps the berries stand out even more. Be sure to add the filling just before serving and have plenty of extra strawberries on hand for garnish!
Some ingredients appear more often in savory dishes than sweet ones. Saffron and olive oil are clearly two instances of this. Saffron is a spice – the most expensive, by weight, in the world – that is renowned for the bright yellow color it gives to dishes. It has a slightly grassy, sweet flavor to it and it is usually found giving its brilliant color to savory rice and couscous dishes. Olive oil, of course, has many savory applications from salad dressing to cooking oil. But both are versatile ingredients and they come together very nicely in this simple cake.
This Saffron and Olive Oil Cake was inspired by a recent trip to Spain, where both saffron and olive oil are very common in the food. Of course, I didn’t have the two of them together in a cake while I was there, though! Olive oil, much like wine, can have many layers of flavor to it. In addition to the flavor of olives, many also have very floral notes (just as dark chocolate, coffee or wine can have), nutty tones and grassy or earthy flavors. You can really smell the olive oil in the cake batter, but once the cake is baked all of these subtle notes come out and the once-strong olive taste settles mildly into the background. Saffron will impart a yellow color to the cake and will highlight some of the earthier notes in the olive oil. The result is a cake that starts with a very simple recipe and ends up with a surprisingly complex flavor to it!
For this cake, you can use any kind of olive oil, but since you’re going to taste it in the finished product, more complex extra virgin olive oils are the best choice (I actually used Crisco’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which I found had a nice fruity flavor to it when I tried it during an olive oil tasting last year). The cake is moist and tender, with a texture somewhere between a sponge cake and a pound cake. You can bake it in a regular 9-inch pan, but I think it is easiest to get it out of a springform pan. I finish this off with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar to give it a little sweetness, but it is also good served plain or with a little bit of lightly sweetened whipped cream.