The great biodiversity heritage embodied by the hundreds of varieties existing in Italy, where the only non-oil-producing area left is the Val d’Aosta, is perhaps the best starting point for a full appreciation of the extraordinary culinary possibility that extra virgin olive oil offers us each day.
The olives naturally assert their varietal profile and modern extraction techniques have the power to enhance these qualities, creating oils with a greater or lesser tendency to be sweet or fruity, spicy or floral, bitter or grassy.
All that remains is to match one’s own personal preferences or gastronomic needs with the many and varied types available in order to find the right pairings and the best taste experience.
Extra virgin olive oil is a food that dates back thousands of years and which, today, is able to express itself at undreamed of levels of excellence, so that every moment spent at the table brings a new sensation and a unique nutritional contribution.
While respecting the choices dictated by personal taste, the paragraphs below suggest some general practices in the use of this full-bodied vegetable fat.
At the table, the use of extra virgin olive oil par excellence is ‘uncooked‘, i.e. poured as a dressing directly over vegetables, raw or cooked meat, raw or cooked fish, first courses, risottos and soups, certain types of cured meats and fresh cheeses. Here the personality of the oil we have chosen will burst forth, instantly, irrepressibly; its direct contact with the food makes it a primary element in balancing the flavors of the dish.
In the kitchen, another valuable property of extra virgin olive oil comes into play, that of being the best cooking fat that nature can provide (remember that all that is done is simply to extract the oil from the fruit). Its presence acts as a fluidizing agent, it harmonizes the flavors and spreads the heat evenly throughout the dish. And, of course, it is no coincidence that each oil incomparably enhances the dishes of its own region.
Sautéing the chopped onion or garlic base for a meat sauce or braising meat are fundamental preliminary stages in cooking which can already determine the success of the recipe, if we use the right extra virgin olive oil.
But the cooking technique most fitting to oil is undoubtedly frying, and traditional Italian cuisine demonstrates that all kinds of foods can be fried in all kinds of ways.
The appeal of these dishes is the union between palatability and flavor, between natural digestibility and simplicity of use, but enthusiasm and excellent raw materials are always required for optimal results.
Concluding our reflections, we can say that there is always room on the table for an excellent extra virgin olive oil; used with a bit of imagination and culinary finesse, extra virgin olive oil provides aromatic enhancement with a unique nutritional value.
What we really have to convince ourselves of, once and for all, is that its presence is so important for our nourishment as to deserve greater attention and a conscious economic effort.
Spending a few Euros more, with respect to the dismal proposals of the discount stores, choosing two or three types with different characters and origins, using them wisely at the table, will enable us to combine the character of the oil to that of the dish – with extraordinary results! Every moment will have its own ‘extra virgin’ taste!
text edited by Stefano Asaro