Nancy Harmon Jenkins is a noted food writer and cookbook author who just happens to spend time here on Maine’s midcoast when she is not in her home in Cortona, Italy. Here she is readily accessible and enthusiastically shares her love and knowledge of Mediterranean cooking, especially its use of olive oil.
Nancy’s newest publication Virgin Territory is the story of her fascination with olive oil and, in her words, how it led her on an unending and predictably futile search to find the world’s greatest olive oil. What she learned she shares, and for any of us interested in the history, culture and making of olive oil as well as tasty recipes, Virgin Territory is a must have.
At a recent ladies’ luncheon, Nancy made her audience keenly aware of the differences in olive oil by having us taste different ones, an experience similar to tasting wines. It doesn’t take much to discover that not all olive oils are created equal!
I can’t remember everything I learned, but here is what stuck in my mind:
- Never buy olive oil that is in a plastic bottle. That little tidbit elicited quite a few gasps as grocery shelves are stocked with ones in plastic and most of us have probably bought one of them.
- Olive oil is best contained in tins or dark bottles and should be kept in a cool, dark place so as not to lose its nutrients.
- Use only extra virgin olive oil as there is no reason to use light or regular.
- Have several different oils on hand as different qualities are for different purposes.
- Olive oil can be substituted for any fat.
- Avoid flavored olive oils. Nancy’s response to a question about them was, “Why ruin a good thing by changing its flavor? The same is true for my coffee!” (I better not tell I’m having a caramel flavored one as I write this.)
Green Olive Tapenade
2 plump garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
Grated zest and juice of 1/2 orange or 1 whole lemon
6-8 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped
2 heaping T. capers, preferably salted, soaked, rinsed and dried
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only, chopped (1/2 t._
1 c. coarsely chopped pitted green olives
1/4 c. finely chopped raw almonds
1/4-1/3 c. olive oil
Pinch of crushed or ground red chile pepper or freshly ground black pepper
Combine the garlic, orange zest and juice, anchovies, capers and thyme in a food processor and pulse briefly to blend. Add the chopped olives and the almonds and pulse again to make a rough paste. Withe the procession on, slowly pour the oil into the mix. It can be as rough or as smooth as you wish. You may not need all the oil–there’s sometimes a lot of oil in the olives. Taste when it’s the right consistency and add a little chile if you wish or some black pepper. You may also wish to add a little more orange juice or some lemon juice if the mix is very salty.
What I like about this and every recipe that Nancy shares in Virgin Territory is that it is presented in such a folksy way making it seem like you are cooking with a friend in the kitchen.
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