Sunday, March 31, 2013

Olive Oil Appreciation 101

Every year, in spring, is "girls weekend."  This year's destination, Ojai, CA.  A destination I've been trying to get hubby to for years, my girlfriends chose this spot with great enthusiasm.  Let's go!

**If you're so inspired, John's Nutty Pesto Recipe Below**

Now in our 6th year, we've treated ourselves to many wonderful locales across So Cal including spas in Laguna and Palm Springs, wine tasting in Temecula and celebrating Royal Tea in Beverly Hills.  This year, we explored our inner foodie-selves and took on olive oil tasting.

We started our quest at the Ojai Olive Oil Company.  Unfortunately, we arrived too late to join the formal ranch tour.  What can I say, The Arcade in town distracted us.

The ever so gracious owners invited us to stroll the grounds and of course sample their oils and vinegars in their humble tasting room.

We sampled with bits of bread and ood and awed at the magnificent variety.  Probably my fave was the Cinnamon Pear infused Balsamic.

Taking advantage of the invitation, we indeed strolled the grove.

The official greeter pulled out all the stops with wags, belly rubs and kisses. No doubt, we were to make ourselves at home.

The olive trees were in their spring mode sending out young shoots for fruiting the following year.  The trees that didn't have young shoots had already done so the previous year, hence the trees are classified as Alternate Bearing.  Needless to say our timing didn't reveal fruit or blossoms.  Harvest season falls in October till the trees are all shaken of their production.

So what is a girl to do to show off the trees; some of which were planted in the late 1800's?  Perhaps our theater upbringing allowed us to ham it up.

Sufficiently entertained, our palates were primed but not necessarily educated.  We drove down to our next stop ... Regalo Olive Oil, Omaggio Farm.

If I could choose where my last days would be, it would be here.  The setting transported us to fantasies of living in the Italian countryside.

It is here, where we learned olive oil is produced within 24 hours or less of harvest.  They are washed, ground to a paste, warmed to release the oil and centrifuged to extract the impurities. 

Learning to savor olive oil is best done straight (drinking a sample).  But if you can't fathom doing that, than a bit of bread to soak the flavors is the next best option.

Timely for this post, the NY Times reported this last week that in addition to the health merits of olive oil having a wealth of antioxidants and monounsaturated fat for protecting the heart, it may also increase the feeling of feeling full by just smelling it.  Could this be another key to limiting obesity?

So many variables can impact the taste including growing region, olive type, soil, blend and how it was produced.  We COULD tell the difference from the farm we just visited just a couple of miles away.  Both supremely good, just different.

Yes, we purchased.  What did I do with my acquisitions?  I implored John to make his "famous" nutty pesto.

Hi!  John here and I will now share my famous nutty pesto recipe with you.  First, send me $1,000.  

While I wait for your check, here is the recipe -- I trust you!

As Sylvia has pointed out, starting with high quality "extra virgin" olive oil is a must.  Place a large hand full of pistachios and pine nuts in a food processor.  I have made this without garlic and it's fine but I prefer 2 large or several small cloves of garlic.  Blend these three items for 10 to 20 seconds just until it's granular like the photo below.  Take the lid off the processor and give this first step a whiff.  Someday I am going to make a pasta "sauce" with just these ingredients.

Next, add basil leaves (I remove the stems) -- the equivalent of one of those large plastic containers you find at the grocery.  Sylvia and I grow our own all summer...

Blend the basil leaf, nutty mixture until the leaves are just minced.  Add quality grated Parmesan -- an entire wedge saving back a little for topping the pasta when it's served. Do a few turns of a pepper mill if desired.

Start the processor again and start to slowly pour olive oil into the spinning blades.  The mixture will first "bunch up" and then start to smooth out, becoming more liquid.  Take the top off again and taste.  You may need a dash of salt or a teaspoon of lemon juice -- or both.  Crazy, I know...

Re-blend briefly to mix -- be careful not to over mix.  During the summer, when we have basil abundance, I freeze Mason jars of this stuff.  Keeps us in pesto until Christmas.  Makes a great cracker spread -- stunningly good on grilled salmon...
and of course, pasta!

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