Olive Oil

Olives and bottle with olive oilFor many people, olive oil simply calls to mind Italian food, but this fruity, delicious oil can also be used in dips, baking, and many kinds of cooking from sautéing to roasting.  It also boasts great health benefits, helping to normalize blood clotting, blood sugar, and insulin, and lowering cholesterol.

Varieties:

Extra Virgin:
Extra virgin olive oil has the lowest acidity (about .8%) and is cold-pressed from the first batch of olives.  It is not chemically altered.  Because its purity and flavor is best appreciated without the heat of cooking, extra virgin olive oil is a good option for salad dressings, dipping oils, pestos, dips and other uncooked foods.

Virgin:
Virgin olive oil has only slightly more acidity than extra virgin (about 1.5-2%).  It is made from slightly more ripe olives.

Pure:
Pure olive oil comes from the second pressing of the pulp left over from the virgin and extra virgin varieties.  It contains more acidity than both kinds of olive oil.  “Pure” means it is not mixed with other kinds of oils. Extra virgin olive oil is more flavorful, but since it is more expensive and its flavor is diminished by cooking, it makes sense to use pure olive oil for cooking.  You’ll save money and still get the health benefits.

Light:
Light olive oil is made of a mixture of refined olive oils.  The word “light” refers to a lighter color and flavor, not to calorie count.  With its mild flavor, it is a good choice for baking.

Storage:

Olive oil should be stored in a dark, room temperature cupboard as light and heat can alter its taste and health benefits.  It should be used within about 6-12 months of being opened.

Cooking tips:

You can substitute light olive oil for butter in baking.  Use 3 tablespoons of olive oil for each 1/4 cup of butter.

Use extra virgin olive oil in an Italian dipping oil to serve with artisan bread, either as an appetizer, or alongside a pasta  dish.

For a memorable hors d’oeuvre, make bruschetta:
Mix 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil with 2 diced Roma tomatoes, 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons chopped basil, 1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar, and freshly ground sea salt and pepper to taste.  Place a tablespoon of this mixture atop a toasted slice of French bread.  Top with a pinch of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

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