Thursday, February 16, 2006
Olive Oil Tasting, College-Style
By some strange coincidence, Jeremy received three different kinds of fancy extra-virgin olive oil for his birthday last week. I combined his three with the two in my kitchen and held an olive oil tasting for three (Jeremy, Glod, and me). The five competing oils were:
1. Vetrice – unfiltered, harvested in Tuscany in 2005
2. Diletta MaleNchini – hand pressed in Antella, Firenze, Italy
3. L’Antico – bottled in Modena, Italy
4. De Cecco – bottled in Fara San Martino
5. International Collection’s Chipotle Pepper flavored Olive Oil
We sampled each alone, then with toasted cubes of rosemary garlic bread, then were free to add any combination of an assortment of condiments to them (crushed red pepper, freshly-grated parmigiano, oregano, balsamic vinegar, sea salt). Glod supplied a palate-cleansing glass of white wine for each.
1. Vetrice – This label is well-known throughout Italy and had a reputation for premium quality and complexity. The bottle we had is pressed from the first pick, and had a spicy, grassy taste. For me, it was a little too aggressive (very bitter, astringent, and green-tasting) by itself, but it was good cut with the cheese, and I imagine the pungent flavor would add a measure of complexity when cooking with it. Ideally, I would use it in pesto; it would go especially well in a parsley-based pesto, or with dandelion.
2. MaleNchini – Another fancy, first-pick oil with a pungent nose, light green color, and strong green taste. This one was less spicy than the Vetrice, but had a bitter fruitiness in the green flavor. It reminded Glod of the smell of a specific plant that grows in Poland. Well received by both Glod and Jeremy; again, too green for me by itself, but great with balsamic and would be delicious with tomatoes (I’m thinking bruschetta?).
3. L’Antico – This is a pretty bottle that I bought in our local natural market for about $15—so a medium-nice oil that I’ve used often and happily, both raw and when cooking. It’s buttery with almond overtones, a mellow, rich flavor. Perfect by itself or seasoned with pepper and oregano; adds a pronounced olivey taste to pasta dishes and sautées. My personal favorite, but Jeremy and Glod both thought it was boring.
4. De Cecco – Yes, the kind you can get in any supermarket for less than six dollars. I use a lot of olive oil and keep it around in case of emergencies. I put it out on the table as a “control group”/just for laughs – but Glod and Jeremy actually liked it quite a bit! It has a flatter, less-interesting-and-more-processed taste than L’Antico, but it’s mild, pleasant, and soaks into parmigiano very well.
5. Chipotle – This was one of Jeremy’s new acquisitions, and we threw it in just for fun, even though it can’t be compared to the other unflavored oils. It was very weird; the peppers are smoked before they are pressed, and the smoky flavor was even more present in the olive oil than the peppery-ness! It actually needed a little extra kick, which we supplied with the Aji J and I brought back from Ecuador. All in all, it was a little too off-putting by itself, but would be really interesting in Spanish dishes (we have an empanada party in the works) or on fish.
All in all, the tasting was really fun, enlightening, and overall, a nerdy success.
For fun: a recipe that would go perfectly with Oil #1 (and with vegetarian diets, as I have been prompted to write about):
SPAGHETTI SQUASH WITH PARSLEY WALNUT PESTO
(Cook’s note: I had never made spaghetti squash, and when I got it in my CSA share, I didn’t know what to do with it. This recipe was a successful experiment; it has a really cool texture, like angel hair pasta.)
1 (3 1/2- to 4-lb) spaghetti squash
1/4 cup walnuts (3/4 oz)
1/2 garlic clove
1 1/3 cups packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons finely grated Pecorino
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
Pierce squash all over with a sharp small knife. Cook in a microwave at high power for 8 minutes, then turn over and microwave until squash gives when pressed gently, 8 to 10 minutes more. Cool squash 5 minutes. (Cook’s note: I didn’t pierce the squash deeply/thoroughly enough, and it exploded in the microwave, which was exciting but messy. Be careful!)
While squash is cooking, toast nuts in a dry small heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and a shade darker, about 6 minutes, then cool completely.
Pulse nuts and garlic in a food processor until finely ground. Add parsley, oil, cheese, water, salt, pepper, and zest and pulse until parsley is coarsely chopped.
While squash is still hot (very hot! careful!), cut off stem from squash and discard, then carefully halve squash lengthwise (it will emit steam) and discard seeds. Working over a bowl, scrape out squash flesh with a fork, loosening and separating strands. Toss with pesto in a bowl. Enjoy!
This recipe came from epicurious.com