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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Great Olive Oil, and Its almost Blog Anniversary time!

Summer in Sicily, 2009
This has been a busy summer so far. I have been distracted with some minor health issues (solved) and spending much of my time preparing for an adventure which will be reported on very shortly.  Suffice to say, this adventure should prove blog-worthy!

 Of course I have been cooking, if not blogging, and have some lovely dishes ready to share:  I solved the mystery of soaking fresh beans ( I was always a canned bean person), and have several very nice recipes I developed. I also would like to share some great grill recipes: shish-ke-bob, grilled pizza, and easy side dishes.

A feature I would like to add to my blog is a cookbook review. Even though the internet is helpful in a pinch, nothing takes the place of a good cookbook to leaf through, adapt, mess up and stain. Besides, if you google a recipe, the same sites come up time after time. and are good resources but have their limitations.  Though the years, I have developed a substantial library of cookbooks, and I would like to share my favorite authors and cookbooks with you, so you can build your own library if you want.

Olive Oil in casks, in Sciacca, Sicily, 2009
Although I will not share specific recipes in this post, I would like to share with you the wonders of good extra virgin olive oil.  Many of us, including myself, pick up this wonderful ingredient in the supermarket or even big box store, in great quantities.   Unfortunately, this is not the greatest quality as you have probably guessed.  According to a review by Cook's Illustrated (one of my favorite sources):

 "Companies importing olive oil are free to label their products “extra-virgin”—even if the same oils wouldn’t qualify for that appellation in Europe, as many impassioned olive oil advocates believe is the case. Nancy Loseke, editor of Fresh Press, a newsletter devoted to olive oil, put it bluntly: “Americans mostly shop the world’s olive oil dregs, the low-rung stuff.”,

Biceno Olive Oil Factory, Sciacca, Sicily
A selection of local favorites, Biceno Factory Store
Sad news indeed for us!  So how do you acquire good olive oil?  Well, you do have to pay a bit more, but it is not as hard as you think. On a trip to Sciacca, Sicily in 2009 for instance, I was pleased to discover that some of the world's finest olive oil is made right in that small city (along with some very fine ceramics, might I add). We found this out by accident, staying at a small bed and breakfast surrounded by olive and orange groves. It turns out that the proprietor manufactured his own olive oil, and it was sold in America.  We also accidently found this little olive oil manufacturing company, Biceno, while shopping for ceramics by the beach.  We found this little lean-to garage-y looking place along the side of the road, chickens running all about, and entered out of curiosity and to get out of the heat. It was like one of those old cartoons where you entered a small tent and came upon a palace; it had this huge interior, with casks, tables,  and olive oil products of every description. The proprietor, who spoke no English, invited us in for a substantial tasting of his many flavored olive oils and eggplant appetizer on crostini, and Marsala wine.  He excitedly pointed out pictures of some celebrities, including Steven Speilberg on the wall, who had been one of his customers, apparently. (I think it helped that our friend was mistaken for the filmmaker where ever we went!).  We were so charmed, that against all reason, we bought up bottles and bottles of his olive oil, anchovies, and other goodies. After we left,  we wondered if we had been so wise, as we had to now figure out how to pack it in our luggage for the trip home. We actually spent an afternoon in Palermo later that week, searching for bubble wrap. Very hard to one knew what we were talking about!  But we did manage to find some, and the oil made it home safely, packed precariously in the bubble wrap,  surrounded by our clothing.  We were so glad, because we had nervously joked that we would be able to identify our luggage easily by the huge oil stains.  Once we returned, I went on a shopping trip to my favorite Italian market in Little Italy in the Bronx, and picked up a bottle of Mike's Deli's private brand of olive oil and to my surprise, it was made in Sciacca!  If you go to Mike's, therefore, you will find some very fine olive oil, and if you visit Fairway, and sample the many olive oils they have available for tasting, you will find Sciacca featured there as well. Please be sure to taste some of the fine offerings from other countries, such as mainland Italy, Spain,  and even Australia. Remember, it is important to treat good olive oil with the utmost care, using it as a dressing or for a quick saute. Try drizzling it on any Italian dish, it truly enhances the flavor.   A quick saute over medium heat is about all it can take; the strong, fruity flavor of a fine olive oil is destroyed in high heat.

I think it is important for me to mark the first anniversary of my blog: I started on a lark, not even knowing how to download photos, and from the reaction of friends, family, and even some strangers, it has been a great success! People seemed entertained by it,  they say they enjoy my writing, and most importantly, have tried some of my recipes with success: so to speak, the proof is in the pudding! I intend to devote more time this year, going  from monthly to weekly posts. That is my goal!  Thank you, readers, for giving me the opportunity to share my passion!

Ancient Olive Tree, Agrigento, Sicily, 2009
Stay tuned, happy summer!