The first thing that comes to mind when you think about olive oil in the kitchen is fried food and dressings. But if you give it a bit more thought, you can find this liquid gold in all sorts of other dishes. It’s at the heart of Mediterranean cooking and features in recipe books all over the Mediterranean Basin.
It brings out flavours and adds subtle nuances. And it also helps preserve food; witness its role in soused and picked food and other preserves designed to prolong the life of foodstuffs. Fish, meat, vegetables… a vast world where olive oil plays a key role, even though we might not notice at first.
Marinating steaks in olive oil with garlic, salt, oregano, paprika and a dash of vinegar; preserving cheese or dried tomatoes in olive oil; dishes such salmorejo, pesto, mayonnaise and humus; homemade semi-preserved vegetables that are always within easy reach in the fridge… Olive oil has such versatile uses in Mediterranean cooking that it is impossible to imagine our diet without it.
Sweet dishes might not spring to mind as readily, but who ever said you can’t replace the butter in a homemade sponge with olive oil? Food writer José Oneto revealed how in his book El aceite de oliva virgen extra en la repostería de ayer y de hoy [Extra Virgin Olive Oil in Yesterday and Today’s Cakes], which features desserts such as crème caramel, rice pudding, sponge cakes and biscuits.
Olive oil can have secondary tastes such as apple or almond that we can draw on to enrich a sweet recipe. But we can also use it in jellies, blancmanges and even ice cream!
Ice cream can be the perfect complement to savoury dishes. Wonderful ice creams leave Fernando Sáenz’s Obrador Grate in Viana, Navarra, for leading haute cuisine restaurants and his ice cream shop Dellasera in Logroño. Lemon and Alfaro olive oil ice cream and olive oil and spinach dressing are some of the fresh original ideas that take olive oil to places you’d never imagine.