10 things to do with olive oil


May is International Mediterranean Diet month, and I’m kicking it off with an updated post about that quintessential Mediterranean diet staple: olive oil

Olive oil has a major health halo, with good reason.  Plenty of research links olive oil to lower risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.  Everyone seems to be using it or promoting it.  Food companies love to tout olive oil on labels, especially for salad dressing.  Unfortunately, if you look at the actual ingredients list, the main ingredient in many of these is something inexpensive like canola oil; olive oil is way down the list.

Olive oil comes from many different locations.  You can find selections from the Mediterranean region, Australia, California, Argentina and elsewhere at your local grocery store.  Even within regions, olive oil comes in many different flavors.  For example, olive oil from Greece can be very different from olive oil from Spain, even though both are Mediterranean countries.  The flavor is determined by the polyphenol content, and research suggests it’s those polyphenols that provide some of olive oil’s health benefits.   So the best olive oils — extra virgin — actually should have flavor.

Once you’ve purchased your lovely olive oil, what can you use it for?  Here are some really easy ideas to make the best use of flavorful olive oil:

  1. Use it on tossed green salad.  Drizzle some oil over the salad, toss briefly. Then add a splash or two of vinegar, salt and pepper and a sprinkling of dried herbs of your choice (oregano, basil and thyme are good).  Toss again and serve.  No need for expensive bottled dressings that scream “Olive Oil!” on the label, but turn out to have little actual olive oil content.
  2. Use it for a dip with bread.  Get some French, Italian or artisanal bread.  Pour a little olive oil into a small bowl, grate some fresh pepper, perhaps add some chopped fresh basil or other herb.  Dip pieces of bread.  Healthier than butter, also more flavorful.
  3. Use it to sauté vegetables.  This only works for low temperature cooking.  Don’t heat extra virgin olive oil to a high, smokey temperature.
  4. Brush it on vegetables for grilling, such as zucchini, yellow squash, onion slices, mushrooms, peppers.  Also great for basting meat like chicken breast or fish, or kebabs.
  5. Toss olive oil with chunky vegetables for oven roasting, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, chunks of winter squash, brussels sprouts or asparagus.  Fennel seed, olive oil, garlic, vegetables — YUM!
  6. Use it for cooking eggs: fried, scrambled, omelets or frittatas
  7. Toss cooked pasta with olive oil after draining.  Adds great flavor to your pasta dish.  And of course use it as a dressing or pasta salad instead of mayonnaise.
  8. Drizzle a teaspoon in a bowl of soup.  Works well for pureed vegetable soups like squash, cream of tomato, and the like.
  9. Rub olive oil on meats before roasting, such as a whole chicken, turkey or leg of lamb.
  10. Puree fresh herbs like basil with olive oil to make pesto, for use on pasta or bruschetta, or as a spread for wraps or sandwiches, or a topping for grilled vegetables.

Above all, use it!  Don’t let bottles of expensive olive oil sit around on the counter or a pantry shelf for months.  It will deteriorate, and taste bad.  Sadly, some people base their opinion about olive oil on a taste of rancid oil that was kept out too long.  If you aren’t going to use it up in a timely fashion, keep it in the refrigerator, preferably in a dark colored bottle.

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