I’ve got creative recipes for cooking with olive oil during spring:
1. Salad Dressing
Watching Jamie Oliver dress a salad with olive oil gets me excited. He’s easygoing about it, adding a splash of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon- no measuring. He’s passionate, tasting and tossing the leaves, exclaiming over the beauty of a perfect radish or the peppery bite of a well-made olive oil. The man makes beautiful, vibrant salads that are a celebration of the season, and he’s the inspiration behind my Spring Pea and Herb Salad, to be featured on the blog this week. The idea that I take from Jamie Oliver is that a salad doesn’t need a fancy vinaigrette with twenty ingredients. Sometimes, the only thing a salad needs is the lubrication and flavor of a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil. Whether you’re tossing together a simple spring greens salad or a medley of peas, beans, and herbs, the vibrant fresh flavors should stand out and not be overwhelmed by an acidic dressing. Next time you toss together a spring salad, try just using your favorite olive oil, and maybe a squeeze of lemon with a dash of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
2. Vegetables Poached in Olive Oil
I came across this technique for Poached Baby Vegetables with Caper Mayonnaise in Yotam Ottolenghi’s book, Plenty. Vegetables simmered in olive oil, white wine, and aromatics are tender and fresh-tasting, making this method well-suited to spring cooking. Ottolenghi simmers baby fennel, carrot, squash, leeks, and asparagus in the poaching liquor for a short time, until they are crisp tender. Serve them warm, in a pool of the broth with a garnish of homemade mayonnaise. I love the elegant nature of this dish, something we see from chefs in restaurants all the time but don’t often attempt at home.
3. Olive Oil Poured Over Ice Cream
I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve seen this recommended by several cooks. In an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Tom Mueller (author of the book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil) describes a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil poured over ice cream as “liquid sunshine.” Jamie Oliver includes Gelato con Olio e Sale in the dessert section of his cookbook, Jamie’s Italy, writing that it’s “bloody gorgeous!” His instructions are to add a couple scoops vanilla ice cream to a bowl, then pour over “some very good high quality extra-virgin olive oil, preferably one with a nice grassy, flower flavor, and sprinkle a tiny pinch of sea salt on the top.” Why not give it a try?
4. Hot Roasted Nuts
If you’ve ever tasted a blend of roasted nuts coated in oil and sprinkled with herbs and spices, you’ll agree with me that they can be addictive. I was instantly smitten by the recipe for Pása Témpos (hot roasted nuts) from World Food: Greece, by Susanna Tee, who described the bowls of hot roasted nuts for sale in street stands and cafés of Greece. Her recipe is to pour a couple tablespoons olive oil into a pan to coat and add 1 1/2 cups nuts (pistachio, walnut, or almond). Sprinkle 3 tablespoons fragrant herbs such as oregano or thyme, and 1 teaspoon spices (either cumin or paprika). Roast the nuts in a 325 degree Fahrenheit oven for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Eggs Fried in Olive Oil
A couple years ago I saw Alice Waters on CBS 60 Minutes, frying an egg in olive oil over the open flame of her kitchen fireplace- that’s when I discovered the pleasure of an egg cooked in olive oil, edges brown and crisp, puffy white, runny yolk. It’s a simple pleasure, dependent on high quality ingredients (typical of her cooking style). Now eggs fried in olive oil are my husband’s specialty on our regular breakfast rotation. A couple farmers market eggs and our favorite olive oil make for a delicious breakfast. We don’t have an open fire to cook on, a cast-iron skillet works just fine.
6. Potato Salad
Growing up in the south, I was never a fan of the ubiquitous mayonnaise smothered potato salad. This recipe for French Potato Salad from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook changed my whole perception on potato salad, and it’s now one of my favorite things to cook. In the book, Ina Garten writes, “Everyone made American potato salad with mayonnaise until Julia Child showed us how to appreciate the freshness and beauty of perfectly cooked potatoes with green herbs and a flavorful vinaigrette.” Half the genius is in the way she cooks the potatoes, boiling them until tender, then draining the potatoes and allowing them to steam in the colander for a few minutes. The creamy texture of the potatoes is complimented By an olive oil, white vinegar, and mustard vinaigrette plus plenty of fresh herbs.
7. Fresh Pasta Tossed with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
One of my favorite local Boulder restaurants, The Kitchen, serves a dish every spring that I look forward to. Fresh pappardelle pasta tossed simply with extra-virgin olive oil, red chiles, goat cheese, and spring vegetables. It’s light and flavorful, basically a pasta primavera to celebrate spring. There’s something about the tender, handmade pasta, the heat of the chiles, the tang of creamy goat cheese, and the peppery bite of extra-virgin olive oil that makes for a perfect spring lunch. Check out this video and recipe from Mario Batali on Martha Stewart to learn how to make easy fresh pasta at home.
8. Olive Oil Cake
The Frankies, chefs and owners of several restaurants/cafes in New York (including Frankies Spuntino) have such a passion for good olive oil, harvested with care, that they make their own extra-virgin olive oil from their organically grown olives in Sicily. Their bright fruity, grassy olive oil inspired this recipe for Olive Oil Bundt Cake that they claim, “works after a meal and is great for breakfast, but it’s also ideal 3 P.M. pastry- not too sweet, not too heavy, great with a good espresso.” The straightforward cake batter is made with eggs, orange zest, sugar, extra-virgin olive oil, flour, salt, and baking powder. Not only does the oil impart its fruity, complex flavor, but it also makes for a moist cake with a long shelf-life.
9. Mixed Fried Vegetables
I know, you’re afraid to fry food in olive oil. There was that whole thing where we were told not to do that, I remember. Well, according to Mario Batali, “in Rome, the fry everything in olive oil.” It’s true, heating oil above the smoking point can lead to bitter flavors, but Mario says it’s ok to deep fry food in olive oil at a temperature of 375 degrees Fahrenheit. I found this recipe for Fritto Misto di Verdura in his book, Molto Italiano, and loved the way it can be customized to whatever veg you’ve got on hand. Mario tosses sweet peas in the pod, green beans, broccoli, squash, and bell peppers in cornstarch then quickly fries them in hot olive oil. Spring vegetables like asparagus, artichoke, spring onions, fennel, and mushrooms would also be delicious. Frying is fast and easy, and you can bottle up the oil, re-using it a couple times. The mixed fried vegetables would be lovely with a glass of rosé for happy hour with a group of friends.
My favorite bread book, Richard Bertinet’s Dough: Simple Contemporary Bread, contains a whole chapter on “Olive Dough.” Bertinet writes that adding olive oil to bread dough imparts a “lovely softness…and resulting in bread with fantastic texture and flavor, which freezes well.” His basic olive dough calls for a fruity olive oil, rather than a peppery, aggressively flavored one, and a bit of semolina to add texture to the bread. My favorite of the recipes is Coarse Salt & Rosemary Focaccia. The olive oil dough is mixed then pressed into a baking sheet with raised sides. More oil is drizzled over the dough, then you press your fingers all over it to form little indentations. After two rises, first 45 minutes, second 30 minutes, the focaccia is baked for half an hour till golden brown. His recipe isn’t available online, but for a similar version, try this Rosemary Focaccia recipe from Saveur.