Nutritionists and foodies alike are sold on the brimming flavors, health benefits of olive oil
Author: MARIA DESIDERATA MONTANA; SPECIAL TO THE U-T
Edition: First Edition
Olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean diet, a centuries-old eating lifestyle widely recognized as one of the healthiest diets in the world.
The staples of that diet are fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, seafood, olive oil and moderate amounts of wine. Olive oil replaces butter or other fats in most Mediterranean cooking.
Olive oil has a high level of monounsaturated fats; research has suggested that the oleic acid in olive oil may be linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. Other studies have indicated that olive oil can reduce LDL cholesterol and that it may also have anti-inflammatory and antihypertensive benefits.
But beyond the health claims, it's the flavor of the oil that makes it a favorite of nutritionists and chefs.
Valerie Breslow, founder/owner of The Wellness Box in San Diego, is a nutritionist and health coach who teaches clients about healthful eating and living. She says she is often asked whether to use olive oil or canola oil on food and in cooking. Breslow believes the answer is always olive oil.
"I prefer consuming extra-virgin olive! oil because of the wonderful flavors it imparts on food," says Breslow. "Rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids, olive oil can help with improving the health of the heart, nerves, digestion, immune system, metabolism, skin, eyes, and rejuvenation of the cells."
To maximize olive oil's heart-healthy benefits and its flavors, substitute extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) for unhealthy fats rather than just adding olive oil to your diet.
Executive chef Paul McCabe of Kitchen 1540 believes that all the hype about olive oil is a trend, but a "good trend."
"I cook with it all the time in my restaurant and at home," he says. "I definitely use more olive oil than butter. I probably go through 15 gallons a week in my restaurant."
David Warner, executive chef of Tower 23, likes to discover new sources of EVOO.
"I think small-batch olive oil production really resonates with our growing desire to be more connected to the food we eat and to support smaller, more! sustainable farming practices." says Warner. "I recently pick! ed up a great olive oil from a family winery near Ensenada — Adobe Guadalupe. I also enjoy Olio Verde for its crisp and grassy taste. Nothing beats a loaf of fresh bread, a sprinkle of salt and some good olive oil."
Frank Mercurio, owner of several We Olive olive oil tasting bars, including a new one in La Jolla, says that many factors affect the overall quality, flavor and health benefits of olive oil. Those factors include the olive varietal, growth conditions, time of harvest, method of milling and storage.
"Each artisan grower utilizes their own unique combination of methodologies when creating their 'special' oils. Sometimes trade secret, sometimes intuition, but never precisely described," he says. "We have growers visit the store on a regular basis to take customers through a guided tasting, ask questions related to 'harvest to bottle,' their favorite culinary application or simply how they developed a passion for olive oil."
We Olive sells only Calif! ornia-produced olive oil that's certified extra-virgin by the California Olive Oil Council (COOC). The COOC was founded in 1992 to support standards that guarantee the quality of California produced Extra Virgin Olive Oil. COOC certification provides consumers with assurance that the olive oil they purchase is indeed 'extra-virgin.'
We Olive offers bottled artisan oils ranging in price from $15 to $40, but also sells EVOO in bulk for $1 to $1.25 per ounce. The store also offers EVOO that has either been infused or crushed with fresh produce, such as lemon, lime, orange or garlic.
Another good source for California-grown olive oil is the California Olive Ranch, which has three of its own ranches and contracts with a number of growers near the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California. California Olive Ranch olives go from branch to bottle in hours, compared with several days — or even longer — for traditional harvesting methods.
Bob Singlet! ary presides over milling the olives. "I taste every batch of ! oil we m ake, and I create the olive oil varieties that we bottle and sell," he says. "My favorite is our Miller's Blend. I sprinkle it over salads and use it to fry fish."
The company was the first in California to pioneer an innovative farming method wherein the olives are planted on trellis systems much like wine grapes. As the trees grow, they are pruned to form one long hedgerow. These shorter olive bushes make it much easier and faster to harvest olives without damaging them, compared with handpicking from taller trees.
Find California Olive Ranch products at Whole Foods, Food for Less, Henrys, Vons and Albertsons, to name a few, or online at www.californiaoliveranch.com Olive oil grades
Last October, the U.S. Department of Agriculture established a new hierarchy of standards for grading olive oil. It was a revision of a grading system in place since 1948.
U.S. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: This is virgin olive oil that has excellent flavor and odor (median of! defects equal to zero and median of fruitiness greater than zero).
U.S. Virgin Olive Oil: Virgin olive oil that has reasonably good flavor and odor (median of defects between zero and 2.5 and median of fruitiness greater than zero).
U.S. Virgin Olive Oil Not Fit For Human Consumption Without Further Processing: This grade, sometimes designated as "U.S. Lampante Virgin Olive Oil," is virgin olive oil that has poor flavor and odor. It is intended for refining or for purposes other than food use.
U.S. Olive Oil: This is a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils fit for consumption without further processing. It has acceptable odor and flavor characteristic of virgin olive oil.
U.S. Refined Olive Oil: This is olive oil obtained from virgin olive oils by refining methods that do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure (basic glycerin-fatty acid structure). It is flavorless and odorless.
Source: USDA.govDefining 'virgin! ' oil
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines "virgin! " olive oils as "the oils obtained from the fruit of the olive tree solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, including thermal conditions, that do not lead to alterations in the oil, and which have not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation, and filtration. ... No additives of any kind are permitted."
Seafood Fettuccine Makes four servings
2 cans minced clams
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces cocktail shrimp, precooked
6-ounce can crab meat
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried parsley
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1 pound fettuccine, cooked according to package instructions
Pecorino-Romano cheese, grated (as much as you like), for garnish
Handful of freshly chopped basil, for garnish
Place clams with juice into a medium-size saucepan and set on low heat. Add butter and olive o! il and stir until butter is melted. Add shrimp, crab meat with juice, garlic and parsley. Stir gently and simmer until bubbling and hot. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Turn off heat and add cooked fettuccine to saucepan and gently combine. Allow to sit covered for five minutes to let the flavors mix with the pasta.
Serve family style with grated Pecorino-Romano cheese and fresh basil.
Recipe by Maria Desiderata Montana
Pan-Roasted Baby Bok Choy With Shaved Sun Chokes, Lemon Oil and Manchego Cheese Makes two salads
Chef David Warner likes the temperature and texture differences in this recipe. He says it's also a good way to try the crisp-nutty sun chokes. It has two olive oil applications; sautéing and lemon oil as a salad dressing. 2 heads baby bok choy, cut in half
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 ounces arugula
3 sun chokes peeled and shaved on a mandoline (see note)
1/4 red oni! on, sliced
1.5 ounces lemon-flavored olive oil
1 o! unce man chego cheese, shaved
Cut the bok choy into quarters and remove most of the core. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and sauté bok choy on low until lightly brown and tender. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to cool slightly. In a mixing bowl, add the arugula, sun chokes, red onion and lemon oil. Mix and season with salt and pepper. Arrange arugula mixture on two plates, top with the warm bok choy and shaved manchego cheese.
Note: Sun chokes can be found at high-end markets such as Whole Foods.
Recipe from executive chef David Warner of JRDN at Tower 23
Olive Oil-Poached Salmon with Baby Greens and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Makes four servings
FOR THE SALMON:
4 pieces center-cut salmon, pin bones and skin removed
3 shallots, sliced
2-3 stalks tarragon, leaves ripped
Sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
4 cups extra-virgin olive oil, for cooking
Season the salmon well and cover with shallots! and tarragon and let marinate 30 minutes. Place all in baking dish with meat thermometer inserted in salmon, and cover with olive oil. Cover dish with foil and place in cold oven.
Set oven to 250 degrees. Once oven reaches 250, continue to cook until temperature on meat thermometer reaches 115 degrees, which should take about 20-30 minutes. Serve immediately.
FOR THE GREEN SALAD:
8 to 10 cups (about 1 pound) mixed greens (mesclun, mâche, watercress, baby arugula, dandelion; include hydroponic lettuces, sprouts and pea shoots)
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
Wash and dry greens; place in a large bowl. Add chives and season with salt and pepper; drizzle over about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss well to coat. Squeeze lemon juice over the greens and toss again. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediatel! y.
Recipe by executive chef Paul McCabe of Kitchen 1540
Maria Desiderata Montana is a freelance writer and the author of the website sandiegofoodfinds.com.