Olive oil at work in your kitchen: 6 ways to use it!
A brief guide concerning olive oil as a condiment and as an ingredient (not just for frying…)
Olive oil is a hallmark ingredient both of Italy’s culinary traditions and of the Mediterranean diet as such. It is not only an ideal condiment for a healthy diet. Olive oil is a foodstuff in its own right, which confers upon our dishes not only certain flavors but also its many nutrient properties.
One thing to remember before all else − olive oils aren’t all the same!
Olive oils vary! For a healthful balanced diet, you should consume extra virgin olive oil or, alternatively, olive oils with high EVO content.
As noted in the article dedicated to classifying olive oils, extra virgin oils are only those obtained directly from the olive by mechanical means alone. These oils present not only free acidity levels of 0.8% or less, but also satisfactory organoleptic properties.
The term, olive oil, is in turn used to indicate a blend of refined olive oils and virgin olive oils. The free acidity level is not in excess of 1%. The law does not establish minimum quantities (%) of virgin olive oil or of extra virgin olive oil to be blended with the refined product. The general practice points to a 5-8% blend. The blends of the better producers may even reach 30% EVO.
Olive oil: crude or for cooking?
There is universal agreement that olive oil is the ideal food fat, to be used both crude and for cooking. Leaving aside saturated fats of animal origin, the Mediterranean Diet favors olive oil as a fat for daily use. It does so because olive oil presents an abundance of healthful substances. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (such as oleic acid), considered “good” because they help lower “bad” blood cholesterol levels (LDL) and protect consumers against cardiovascular conditions.
Let’s take a closer look at how to use olive oil and EVO as a condiment and as an ingredient.
1 – As a condiment (crude)
Extra virgin olive oil is the ideal crude condiment, thanks to its ability to enhance the flavors of the ingredients − i.e. the organoleptic characteristics, fragrances, flavors and the sensations that emerge when first tasting. Extra virgin olive oil takes foods ‘to the next level’!
When the molecules of olive oil encounter the molecules of other foodstuffs, the impact is pleasing. So surprisingly so that it’s well worth your while to experiment with pleasant, constantly new combinations between olive oil and your own recipes (but make sure you get the quantities right!).
Depending on the recipe, it may be best to use a delicate extra virgin olive oil. Delicate in order not to mask the flavor of the dish itself. You might wish to characterize a certain dish by using an EVO with more intensely aromatic, fruity or even piquant hints.
Given its high smoke point (195°C/198°C), olive oil is ideal for all cooking tasks.
The smoke point is the temperature at which the heated fat begins to break down. The molecular structure then changes, producing (toxic, cancerogenous) acrolein.
The smoke rising over the cooker is made up merely of the oxidized molecules released from the olive oil and rising into the air.
For quick frying, olive oil resists the heat very well without masking the flavors and fragrances of the other foods. Light or medium-to-light olfactory and gustatory hints characterize the oil to be used.
Slower cooking is more insidious (as is the much-decried ‘fry up’, too!). With its heat, all cooking is bound to drastically degrade foods.
Here too, higher-quality olive oils survive cooking ‘with flying colors’! This is due to the content of monounsaturated fatty acids, which degrade more slowly (not to mention the many antioxidant substances).
This is why olive oil is perfect for flavorsome meat and other sauces or soups, as well as meat second courses and stewed vegetable dishes.
Given its 195°C/198°C smoke point, olive oil is great when very high temperatures are required. You need have no concerns, since home frying temperatures never exceed 160-180°C (i.e. a very high safety margin).
Olive oil is therefore ideal for French fries, delicate vegetables served in batter, and fragrant ‘seafood rings’ (squid etc. in batter).
Olive oil is also perfect for baking. Olive oil resists high temperatures very well and enhances the flavors of all dishes. Check out the results with fish baked in foil, marvelous roasts, delicious vegetables and crisp potatoes.
Have you ever considered preparing a sweet dish using olive oil instead of butter? Try it sometime. It will make for a lighter dessert, and you’ll love the amazingly soft consistency. Not only are these desserts decidedly fragrant; they’ll be easier on your digestive system, too!
Try it out! Remember that 100 g of butter is equivalent to roughly 80 g of olive oil.