What I know about olive oil (some of it)

Last year we were lucky enough to be with our friends Daniela and Malcolm at their place in Tuscany and our stay coincided with the pressing of the new oil. This was celebrated by the ritual of eating as much of the brand new oil, bottled half an hour before straight out of the press, mopped up with crusty bread. Delicious!

People are often ask me which olive oil to use. My answer is always the same. But first an added aspect to the question is often an obsession with the so-called health danger of using olive oil because it has a lower smoking point than other oils. My answer to the latter is that people have been using olive oil for all sorts of cooking for centuries so it is tried and tested, and I rarely need to heat olive oil until very hot anyway. I assume this worry arises because there are more obscure oils now available which have been marketed as having a high smoking point. Why this is a plus I don’t know. When was the last time you had oil at smoking point without calling the fire brigade?

Olive oil is ancient food, one that tastes good, which is always my first consideration, the second being that it is good for you. One should remember however that it is a fat and though healthily monounsaturated, it will still pack on the kilos, as will any food, if overused. Light olive oil just means light in flavour, not calories.

I buy New Zealand or Australian supermarket brand of “cold pressed extra virgin olive oil for everyday use because it is fresh with no trace of rancidity.

I buy a good estate bottled extra virgin olive oil (this includes some brands of Italian, but usually not the Italian supermarket big brands) for when I want to taste it uncooked, for example in salads, or dribbling over soups, bruschetta or vegetables. I use extra virgin olive oil for cooking because it is a natural product and tastes good.

“Olive oil” branded oil can be heat-treated and chemically rectified.

“Pomace” branded oil is the absolute last squeezing of the pomace or the olive pulp which is leftover after most of the oil is removed. That is why lowest quality pomace olive oil is always in the most attractive tins, the next step down is lamp oil.

An estate bottled oil is one which came from one place at one time and varies in flavour from season to season like wine. The great advantage of using a New Zealand oil is its freshness. Olive oil is best when fresh. It does not keep like wine. The Italians say “old wine and new oil”.

From something that not so long ago had to be bought from the chemist, olive oil has become and an enjoyable part of many kiwis diets as I hope the following will show.

Don’t waste olive oil in the pasta water because it ends up being tipped down the drain. Put it on the pasta after it is cooked and drained to keep it from sticking if necessary.

Pasta with Black Olives, Anchovies, Broccoli, Olive Oil and Parmesan

  • 400g short dried Italian pasta
  • 1 large head broccoli, cut into large bite sized florets, thick stalks peeled and thinly sliced
  • 6 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped roasted almonds
  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
  • a large pinch hot chilli flakes
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Italian parmesan for serving
  • Drop the pasta into a very large saucepan of boiling water which has enough salt in it so that it tastes like sea water.

It should be quite salty so the pasta is seasoned properly.

Stir until the water comes back to the boil so the pasta doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Boil until al dente or tender but firm to the bite when tasted.

Drain but leave about ¼ cup of the water.

Place the pasta into a large warm serving bowl.

While the pasta is cooking, drop the broccoli into another saucepan of boiling water and boil until soft but not collapsing

Add the cooked broccoli, the anchovies, almonds, olives, garlic, chilli, and oil.

Toss well and serve with parmesan for sprinkling.

Serves 4-6.