Italy in an Instant – Extra Virgin Olive Oil

olive-oil-drip.jpgNothing can transport you to Italy quicker than opening a good bottle of Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The aroma, flavor and taste reflect the character of the land. From the delicate, fruity oils of the Ligurian Riviera to the pungent, peppery oils of Tuscany to the soft buttery flavors of the Umbria hills, the oils of the Italian peninsula are like a travelogue of flavor.

Yet less than 30 years ago olive oil was relatively unheard of in the US. It was barely mentioned in the early editions of the Betty Crocker Cookbook and wasn’t looked at as an ingredient in cooking until 1973 when Marcella Hazan published her classic book on Italian cooking. Today almost every kitchen on the planet has a bottle of olive oil in their pantry and every grocery store and market an array of oils on their shelves so much so that we may take it for granted.

Oils from CosituttiMarketPlace are sourced from small producers and generational families who are committed to preserving and protecting the culinary and cultural history of regional Italian food.  

Here are 5 of our favorite ways to create an Italy in an Instant moment using extra virgin olive oil.

Spaghetti with Garlic, Olive Oil and Red Pepper Flakes

Goat Cheese in Olive Oil                                                                             burrata

Cerignola Olives with Hot Pepper and Rosemary Oil

Sweet Olive Oil Quick Bread

Lemon and Olive Oil Marinated Fennel with Burrata and Fresh Mint

Gauging the Maturity of the Blossoms

fennel-pollenIn the heart of the Casentino valley of eastern Tuscany, a valley famous for being the birthplace of Michelangelo, the countryside is covered with a thick forest of pine, cypress and chestnuts and the bottom of the valley is full of wild herbs and flowers. Italians are known to scout the countryside carefully observing the plants, gauging the maturity of the blossoms and determining the right time to pick the edible plants and flowers they use at the table. In the case of the fennel plant this is when green flowers produce a fine dust of pollen that blows on the warm summer breezes toward the end of July.

A tall perennial herb native to the Mediterranean region, Italians have a classical authority for using fennel (finocchio). Well known since ancient times, fennel was cultivated by the Romans for its aromatic fruit and edible shoots. Like many culinary herbs it has an herbal pharmacopeia with a pharmaceutical lore that is impressive. 12th century writer, composer, philosopher and visionary  Hildegard Von Bingen mentions the benefits of fennel in her Causae et Curaewriting “However fennel is eaten, it makes men merry, and gives them a pleasant warmth, and makes them sweat well, and causes good digestion.“ Culinarily this Italian pantry staple is most widely known for its seeds.  Finocchiona made of finely ground pork shoulder seasoned with wild fennel, is a classic Tuscan salame and a signature item in a Tuscan antipasto.finocchiona I particularly enjoy rings of fennel thinly sliced from the bulb, sprinkled with coarse sea salt, drizzled with fresh harvested extra virgin olive oil as part of a pinzimonio platter. Our cousins from the Veneto braise fennel for a perfect side dish.

The pollen of the fennel  plant is so highly regarded in the cuisine of Northern Italy that some have been known to say that it is carried on angel’s wings. With an intoxicating aroma (licorice-like, curry) and notes of toasty-sweet hay and honey, it adds an intense flavor and complexity to any dish. Used as a dry rub on meats or sprinkled on fish or vegetables, fennel pollen is often added to rice, pasta and risotto dishes in place of saffron. Each fennel flower contains less than one-quarter teaspoon of pollen (making it expensive and limited) so gauging the maturity of the blossoms and the right time for harvesting the fine dust of the pollen can definitely benefit from some heavenly intervention.