Posts Tagged ‘Olive_oil’

Easiest grilled squid, with a nod to Spain

On our Spain tours we’ve enjoyed some amazing seafood. Spaniards (like Sicilians) cook squid and octopus fearlessly, and most of the time it’s tender and delicious, with none of that “rubber-eraser” texture. I’ve always been a bit afraid to cook them at home due to that risk. However, last weekend we decided to throw caution to the wind and cook a squid appetizer on the grill!

I took the easy way out; I bought fresh squid from the fishmonger that was already cleaned and ready to go. We patted it very dry with paper towels first, both inside and out.

Then we marinated it for about 15 minutes, in a quarter cup each of extra virgin olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt.

Drying the cleaned squid.

Drying the cleaned squid.



The grill was fairly hot, and we used a grill tray that had had time to heat up over the coals. Then we put the squid on the grill and cooked it for 2 minutes on each side. If your grill was hotter than ours was, you’d be able to cook it for even less time. We knew it was time to flip it or to pull it off when the outside started to bubble and turn lightly golden.

As soon as we pulled it off the grill, we brushed on a little more olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice, and sprinkled with a little fresh parsley.

On the hot grill tray.

On the hot grill tray.

Ready to eat!

Ready to eat!

And then we devoured it. Here’s Elph having the kind of late-summer-discussion over great food and wine that helps us make it through the long winter to come.

Good food, wine, and conversation!

Good food, wine, and conversation!

Olive harvest at a family-owned estate in Sicily

During our Sicily food tour, a highlight of the trip is spending time on a family-owned olive estate during the time of olive harvest and extraction of their excellent olive oil. We stroll with the owner in the orchards, gardens, and mill, and learn all about the process and about what goes in to making a great olive oil.

The olive orchard.

The vegetable garden.

We learned that:
– Harvesting the olives at the right moment, while still green, means maximum flavor and lower yields – they much prefer quality to quantity
– Getting the olives to the mill right away is important, so they don’t sit and start to ferment
– Rinsing and sorting them thoroughly, to remove leaves and twigs, helps too
– Extracting the oil using the gentlest mechanism possible, to produce the least heat during the process, also maximizes quality and flavor

The care they take during the entire process means they create an intensely flavorful, fresh oil, with an incredible color too.

Here are two video snippets from one of our visits.

First, the olives being milled – the estate we visit mills its own olives. The olives are hand harvested in their orchards, and driven to the milling building. The olives are unloaded onto a conveyor belt, which takes them into the rinsing stage, they are hand-sorted, then dried, and then move into the extractor, which turns slowly and gently to separate the oil from the solids.

The second video is of the owner, Gabriella, talking a bit about the olives and the harvest process. The harvest goes on for weeks, and she and her father and other family members and workers, work pretty much around the clock.

That evening, we all sat down to a wonderful dinner in her villa of a variety of homemade local specialties, featuring their excellent oil of course, as well as produce from their gardens and fruit trees, local fresh and aged cheeses, and their house-marinated olives. Everything was delicious.

Walking up to the villa with Gabriella

The first course - local cheeses, and homemade spreads and marinated olives.

Roasted Red Pepper Crostini

I was looking for an easy party appetizer using some of the sweet red bell peppers I still had from my garden, so I flipped through several Italian cookbooks I have and found the idea to make a roasted red pepper crostini (it may have been from a Faith Willinger Tuscan cookbook).

First, you need to char the outsides of the red peppers. I had about a dozen peppers, and I used an outdoor gas grill, which worked great. Then I put them in a paper bag, and closed it up tightly for a few minutes until the peppers had cooled down. Then I pulled off the peels with my fingers – from what I’ve read its important to NOT put the peppers under running water when you do this – you lose some of the tasty flavors that way.

Once I had prepped all my peppers, I prepared the other ingredients for the marinade – about 10 cloves of fresh garlic, also from my garden, which I sliced very thinly.

The first two of my roasted and peeled red bell peppers.

Garlic is nicely strong at this time of year.

And I picked fresh oregano leaves until I had about a half a cup.

Then, I cut the peppers into strips lengthwise, discarding the centers and seeds of course. Next, I took a round glass tupperware dish with deep sides, and I started layering. First a layer of the roasted pepper strips in the bottom. Then I sprinkled with a little sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and some fresh oregano leaves, and some of the sliced garlic. Then I repeated with more layers. Once all the peppers were in, I poured in enough extra-virgin olive oil to cover. (You’ll want to use a really good oil.)

And then, patience! It’s supposed to marinate ideally for two days in the fridge (covered), and then you let it come to room temperature before serving. I had only made this one day ahead of the party, but it still tasted great. I bought a couple baguettes, and some salted rice crackers for a gluten-free option. I sliced the baguettes but decided not to toast them. Just before the party I arranged pepper strips on a slice of baguette or a cracker and put them out on a platter. They were delicious! I had some leftover and I’m still enjoying them, I think they’ll last quite a while in the fridge.

Marinating the peppers

The final dish, in the front left and rear right, together with some other appetizers.

Sundried-Tomato Crackers

I made an easy Italian appetizer the other night while I was cooking dinner. Last summer I had so many Roma tomatoes in my garden that I cut in half and slow-baked a bunch of them until most of the water had evaporated, and then froze them in olive oil in small batches. I defrosted a batch, and put them on Italian Glutino (gluten-free) crackers. I had some Italian extra virgin olive oil and a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on hand from Zingerman’s Deli, so I added a bit of each, then sprinkled the crackers with sea salt and fresh Italian parsley that I was chopping for my dinner dish, and ground a little pepper over. An instant tasty part of our aperitivo hour.

Sundried tomatoes on crackers with trimmings

Moroccan Pear Salad with Endive

Moroccan pear salad with endive

I made a “Moroccan Pear and Leaf Salad” last night. I had two perfectly ripe pears, and the recipe suggested endive as the “leaf”, so that’s what I used. Not something that I usually have on hand but I bought some since I thought it would be interesting to try.

The flavors were great together – the sweet juicy pear with the tart fresh lemon juice and peppery extra virgin olive oil, and the salt brought out the flavors even more. I liked the crunchy endive leaves, and with their scooped shape I could get more of the dressing and the pear juice in each bite.

Here’s the recipe, courtesy of the Morocco section of Claudia Roden’s cookbook, “Arabesque, A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon”:

Juice from 1/2 lemon
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 ripe pears
A few ounces of some kind of greens

First you mix the lemon juice, oil, salt, and pepper in a serving plate. I kind of whisked them together with the flat of a fork. Then peel the pears, and slice each pear into 8 long slices, cutting out the core. (I usually eat fruit like pears without peeling them, but I think it was important to peel them for this, the peels might be a bit tough in this salad.) Put the pears into the dressing and roll them so they’re coated (so they don’t turn brown). Then toss in the greens and serve.

Sicily tour 2010, it’s a wrap!

Marsala – Trapani – Erice
(Photos are at the end of the post.)

Our last three days in the Trapani region in northwestern Sicily were lovely. One highlight was visiting a family-owned olive estate; the harvest had begun so we got to watch the olive oil making process, taste the fresh oil, and then sat down to a homemade dinner at their villa. We also visited a honey producer, and tasted the range of honeys that the bees make, depending on what is in flower – from the delicate, light-colored acacia or orange-blossom to the intense dark chestnut honey. And of course, we visited a Marsala wine-maker, Pellegrino, learned about their process, tasted wines, and had lunch up high in a former storage tower turned restaurant, with a great view of the town and the water. We spent an afternoon strolling the romantic streets of the mountaintop village of Erice – gorgeous views of land and sea on all sides, narrow pedestrian streets lined with shops and cafes and paved in meticulously placed little stones.

Monday night we had our final dinner together at the hotel, and said goodbye. Very early Tuesday morning (5am!) the first group of us headed to the Palermo airport, with others heading out at various times during the day with different destinations. A truly wonderful 10 days. Am glad I brought a lot of goodies home with me, so I can keep enjoying Sicily for a while yet!

Hand-picked olives being rinsed before the oil is extracted.

Olive oil doesn't get any fresher than this!

Our Sicilian guide Gioacchino holding a honeycomb up for the honey-producer.

Fresh honey!

Me in Erice.

Our little bus by the market in Trapani.


Insalata Caprese is one of my absolute favorite summer meals. Fresh mozzarella from Zingerman’s Creamery, a ripe slicing tomato from the farmer’s market, basil from my garden, sprinkled with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and drizzled with an extra virgin olive oil from Puglia and a concentrated vinegar must from Marsala, Sicily. Eaten on our back deck to the sounds of the goldfinches. One of the joys of this season!

Insalata Caprese

Puglian extra virgin olive oil and Paesano bread

It was time to try a wonderful artisanal Puglian olive oil called Piana degli Ulivi – made by a family in Puglia for over 200 years. I had never had it. So I picked up a bottle from Zingerman’s Mail Order (lovely bottles with round stoppers), and a loaf of fresh Paesano bread (a traditional bread of Puglia) from Zingerman’s Bakehouse. And some excellent salami and cheese just to round things out. So we had a simple but perfect mini-feast on our back deck. The oil was flavorful, grassy and buttery too, with a pepper-in-the-back-of-the-throat finish. Very good stuff. And the Paesano bread is always fabulous – we tore chunks of it off the loaf, dunked it in the olive oil, and devoured it. A perfect match. We didn’t need anything else for dinner that night!

Paesano bread, perfect for tearing and dipping.

Piana degli Ulivi, extra virgin olive oil