What makes extra virgin olive oil special?

Friday, March 8, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 10

I guess I’m on an Italian cooking spree. Last week, I told you about Modena balsamic vinegar. This week, I have olives on my mind.

I love olives. Green or black, Italian or Greek, it doesn’t matter to me. I love them all. In fact, I started craving olives when I started writing this article so I’m eating green olives as I write.

Anyway, this week’s recipe features olives. I’m also including a recipe for a great Italian pineapple cake made with – what else? – olive oil. Both recipes are delicious, quick and easy to make.

So what do you know about olives other than Olive Oyl as the name of Popeye’s girlfriend? Or that a dove brought Noah a leaf from an olive tree? Oh? Well, then me thinks it’s time for a little “ABCs of Olive Oil.”

The olive is native to Asia Minor and spread from Iran, Syria and Palestine to the rest of the Mediterranean basin before mankind even knew how to write. It’s among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world.

The Phoenicians spread the olive to Africa and Southern Europe. Olives have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 2,000 B.C. The olive culture was spread to the early Greeks, and then the Romans.

As the Romans extended their empire, they took the olive with them.

Over the past several hundred years, the olive has spread to North and South America, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. As the Franciscans built missions in California, they also planted olive groves.

Types of olive oils:

Extra virgin olive oils are treated like fine wines, and some people say no two olive groves will produce oils that taste alike. To be certified as “extra virgin,” the oil should satisfy four criteria. It must:

  • Be produced by mechanical extraction methods (no chemicals or hot water applied)
  • Come only from first cold-pressing
  • Have an oleic acidity level of less than one percent
  • Caramelized upside down pineapple cake

    For the dough: 

      1/2 cup of all-purpose flour  

      5 tbs. of corn flour

      6 tbs. of sugar

    For the filling:

    1 large can of pineapple slices, drained

    For the caramel sauce:

      1 tsp. of baking powder

      5 tbs. of white sugar

      3 tbs. of olive oil

      3 tbs. of water

      4 eggs

      4 tbs. of olive oil

      A pinch of salt

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, beat the sugar, salt, and eggs until smooth and creamy. Add the oil. Mix together the flour, corn flour, and baking powder; gently fold all of the ingredients together.
    For the caramel sauce: In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar, water, and oil over a gentle heat until the mixture browns. Pour it immediately into a high-sided tart dish.
    Lay the pineapple slices on top and cover with the egg-and-flour mixture. Bake for
    15-20 minutes in the oven. Turn it out of the pan immediately and serve warm.

    Penne rigate with olives and capers

    1 pound of penne rigate

    4 tbs. of extra virgin olive oil

    1/2 cup of pitted green or black olives (I mix mine), diced

    3 tbs. of chopped capers

    2 tbs. of fresh chopped parsley

    2 cloves of garlic, minced

    Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

    Freshly grated black pepper and salt, to taste

    Bring the salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook until “al dente.” At the same time, sauté the garlic and the parsley in the oil in a large frying pan. Add the olives, and then the capers, and then cook over a low heat for three minutes. Drain the pasta and then immediately pour it into the frying pan; sauté lightly until well blended. Place on a plate and sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Oh. My. Gosh

  • Have a perfect taste.

Acidity level is the most important factor in determining the oil’s grade. This is a measure of the percentage of free fatty acid content.

The best oil has the lowest acidity. The oil should also be free from perceptible defects in taste and smell.

Extra virgin olive oil is valued for its perfect balance in terms of flavor, aroma, color and acidity.

Extra virgin olive oil also is prized for its high amount of vitamins and nutrients. Since it’s the first pressed, it contains a high level of both. Also, it’s pure and contains no additives.

Virgin olive oil also comes from the first pressing, and also is produced without refining. However, its flavor is less mild than extra virgin and it has fewer vitamins and nutrients.

Pure olive oil is actually a blend of either extra virgin, or virgin, olive oil and other refined olive oils. It’s used mainly when extracted olive oil is of a poor quality, as the refining process helps it to have a better flavor. It’s fine for frying.

Oils just labeled “olive oil” are mostly the same thing as pure olive oil. They’re refined and lack flavor.

Why is olive oil healthy?

Olive oil is considered a fat, but it’s one of the healthiest oils due to its high mono-unsaturated fat content and very low saturated fat content.

Scientific studies have shown that olive oil helps our heart remain healthy and aids in regulating cholesterol levels.

Its health benefits are widely documented, and it is part of the food pyramid of the Mediterranean diet.

So what better reason to have these two recipes for dinner tonight? You won’t be disappointed!