LOCATION AND CLIMATE

 

As you might expect, olives grown in cooler areas where there is more moisture (rainfall and dew) exhibit leaner, more restrained characteristics.  This doesn’t however mean that great oil can now be made in Iceland – you need a minimum amount of sunshine to make your Extra Virgin Olive Oil taste remarkable, similarly to tomatoes or stone fruit.

Olive trees are sensitive to winter freeze (the Casaliva cultivar is more resistant to cold, hence being grown in the Garda region).  It is also easier to farm organically where the climate is more stable and less chemical sprays are required to keep the trees healthy.

OLIVE MATURITY

 

Here’s the thing – all olives are green.  When they become fully mature, they turn black.
Olive maturity at the time of harvest is a major factor in flavour and quality: olives harvested earlier (green olives) feature more bitter, grassy characteristics, with lower yields and with the highest anti-oxidant content.  The oil is a much more intense green colour and has a longer shelf-life.  In terms of production, milling can take longer with green olives (a longer malaxation - the action of slowly churning milled olives to release droplets of oil - is needed and can be more complicated) but the results are far superior!  Don’t choose olive oil from over mature fruit: it lacks all the potential goodness and flavour.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL IN GROVE AND MILL

 

People who care passionately about what they make and follow it personally every day have the capacity to create products with far higher quality, with integrity, and that taste of where they come from.  They are also able to do this by caring for the environment they inhabit.

FRANTOIO DI RIVA BOX

This box contains 6 bottles of extra virgin olive oil made exclusively by Frantoio di Riva from groves on the banks of lake Garda.

Frantoio di Riva, 46°PARALLELO green label x 3 bottles (50cl)
Frantoio di Riva, 46°PARALLELO organic white label x 1 bottle (50cl)
Frantoio di Riva, 46°PARALLELO blue label x 1 bottle (50cl)
Frantoio di Riva, ULIVA Garda Trentino DOP x 1 bottle (50cl)

Beetroot three ways

Red, orange and yellow feature highly in our autumn vegetable basket, from pumpkin to pomegranate, we feel blessed to have these rich, earthy, autumnal flavours at our table. Beetroot holds a special place in our heart so we wanted to dedicate a few words to it.

Beetroot is more readily associated with Northern and Eastern European cuisines – think borsht (beetroot soup) or rodbetsallad (beetroot salad).  But this autumnal root vegetable is also widespread in Northern Italy, and as you would expect, there is also a local variety, la Tonda di Chioggia – Chioggia’s round, named after the charming town overlooking the Venice lagoon, which also names a very special type of radicchio.

The Italian name for beetroot is barbabietola, the chard’s beard. This is because it’s tradition in Italy to eat both the root and the leaves, for example by frying them both together in a pan, with olive oil, salt and herbs, to make a quick and tasty side (dice the beet, fry in oil for 5 minutes, then add the sliced leaves and herbs, until ready).

Here are 3 recipes to try with this vegetable which is also wonderfully good for you.

BEETROOT AND LENTIL TABBOULEH

 

Ingredients

  • A handful of flat leaf parsley
  • A handful of fresh mint
  • 200g radishes
  • 2 beetroot, peeled and quartered
  • 1 red apple, cored, quartered and sliced
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 4 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 250g quinoa, cooked
  • 400g cooked green lentils
  • Juice of 1 lemon

 

Serves 4

 

This is an incredibly quick and easy recipe.  Chop the herbs, radishes and beetroot finely.  Stir in the rest of the ingredients and then season to taste.  Dress with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and lemon juice, lay on a large platter and serve.

We like this as a stand alone dish for lunch or alongside roasted lamb, mackerel or a selection of goats cheeses.

 

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BEETROOT SALAD WITH CARROT, ZUCCHINI AND PISTACHIO

 

We enjoyed this salad immensely at a dinner at the Fabbrica winery near to Pienza recently.  A truly beautiful spot nestled in the Val d’Orcia in Southern Tuscany and extremely worthy of a visit www.fabbricapienza.com

 

These ingredients are all readily available in early autumn in Tuscany, but few people put them together in this way in these parts.  To us, this exhibited acute awareness of flavour, texture and season  – something that Fabbrica Pienza exudes in their wines and olive oil as well.

 

Ingredients

  • 4 small beetroots, peeled and sliced in to fine discs
  • 2 pale green zucchini, sliced in to fine discs
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced in to fine discs
  • Flat leaf parsley
  • Shelled pistachio nuts
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 4 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Dash of maple syrup

 

Serves 6 as a starter or side dish

 

Once all of the raw vegetables are finely sliced, dress them well in a bowl.  Then lay out flat on individual plates interweaving the red, orange and green discs.  Sprinkle the pistachio nuts and flat leaf parsley over the top and serve.

 

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PANSARIA ME SKORDALIA (beetroot and potato puree)

 

This dish is real comfort food for me, transporting me back to my days in Greece, but it also reminds me of the early days in London when we loved going to The Real Greek in Hoxton Square, wow, that was a long time ago J

Pansaria is the beetroot salad, you can serve this a number of ways, but I like to keep it pretty simple.  It goes alongside Skordalia, which is a rich potato and garlic puree.  These two work supremely well with white fish and/or flat bread.

 

Ingredients

2 large beetroots, boiled and peeled

The beetroot leaves, blanched

1tsp ground coriander

3 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tbsp Red Wine Vinegar

 

5 medium potatoes boiled

3 cloves of garlic

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

4 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

half a cup of water

 

For the beetroot side dish, keep it simple to retain the wonderful natural flavour.  Having boiled the beetroot and leaves, season with Maldon salt, black petter, ground coriander and add a simple red wine vinegar/EVOO dressing.

 

For the Skordalia, wash, peel and boil the potatoes on a low heat for about 20 minutes until soft.

In a food processor put half a cup of boiling water (you can use the potato water if you like), plus the garlic, red wine vinegar and seasoning.  Roughly chop the potatoes and add in.  Pour in the EVOO gradually as you would for mayonnaise.  If you don’t like your skordalia too angry, add the garlic cloves to the boiling potatoes for the last 5 minutes and this will give a milder effect.

When making skordalia, the potatoes must be blended when hot – otherwise it becomes lumpy.

Caponata

As you move to the deep south of Italy, the food changes becoming distinctly mediterranean as it combines sweet, savoury and nutty flavours. There is a natural contrast between the recipes traditionally coming from the wealthy palazzi and that for people living in the countryside and the along the coasts. And as often is the case the poor paisan food found ways to mimic the food of the nobility. Caponata, one of the quintessential contorni you can find in Sicily, was inspired by a fish dish cooked with a bitter sweet sauce, by replacing the expensive dolphinfish (not a dolphin!) with the readily available aubergine. The ancient name of dolphinfish was capone, hence the name of the dish. Traditionally it would be eaten as a main, with bread; but now it’s found in many different local variations across Sicily, as a side dish. Caponata is very flexible in terms of the flavours you can highlight along side its bitter-sweet taste, and some replace aubergine with artichokes, for example. We like the flavour and crunch from the celery (so we major on this), whist often it tends to be more hidden. As a dish it should be eaten warm.

Ingredients

800 gr Aubergine

1 Celery stick (or more if you like)

1 red onion

300g Tomatoes

50g Capers (the salted ones)

25g Pine nuts

100g Pitted Olives (green or black as you prefer)

1.5 teaspoons of sugar

75ml White wine vinegar

50g Raisins

A few basil leaves

Which EVOO to use?

We are in Sicily, so naturally we use  on of the oils from Frantoi Cutrera. In particular we like Gran Cru Nocellara Etnea for this dish, with its herbaceous and bitter undertones, that combine well with sweet and savoury flavours of Caponata.

Method

Cut the aubergine in small cubes, place in a colander, sprinkle with fine salt and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. Rinse, dry and fry in abundant olive oil, on a low heat, stirring regularly for about 10 minutes. Make sure you don’t burn the aubergine and once they are ready transfer on kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil.

Thinly chop the celery and onions and cook in olive oil together with the tomatoes for about 15 minutes, making a pulpy stew. Make sure it doesn’t dry too much. Rinse the capers in fresh water and add together with the aubergines, sugar, vinegar, olives (whole or chopped), pine nuts and raisins, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the fresh basil at the point of serving.

Finally Spring

Finally spring! Frankly we’ve had enough of cavolo nero and cabbage, and long for the fresh flavours of the new season, like freshly podded peas and broad-beans, and the king of vegetables that is artichoke… To celebrate spring we have created a menu that takes in all the flavours of the season, using oils to match. This is a meal for consenting adults only, combining the freshness of the new season, bold flavours and a lot of garlic. It is also mostly vegetarian.

Two starters:

Broad-bean hummus with gremolala of feta & olive inspired by a similar dish in Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques, as a central dip and

Braised fennel with capers and olives as found in Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More – this dish oozes full flavours. As the fennel softens, it gets infused with the classic mediterranean scents of garlic, tomatoes, olives and capers. Served with a little fresh ricotta to add a soft saltiness, it is a very satisfying starter, that contrasts the freshness of broad-bean hummus, which is rich in garlic, and has a tangy feta gremolata, adding an extra high note.

For the hummus we used: S’Ciappau from Paolo Cassini. An amazing 100% Taggiasca from the Ligurian hillsides with an incredibly high polyphenol content.

For the Fennel, we used: monocultivar Lea from the Gregori brothers in the Marche. New to our portfolio, these guys are desperately hard working and precise. We love their interpretation of Lea, made only by 5 or 6 producers in the Tesino valley as it stretches down towards the Adriatic sea. Rich in polyphenols, it pairs well with pulses, nuts and fully flavoured vegetables.

We drank: Zanotto Rude Col Fondo. Out there and interesting bottle fermented sparkling wine.

Main Course:

Mixing black rice & farro gives nuttiness, depth and and a visually very satisfying base to any dish. The rice and the farro are cooked separately in a risotto method with onions, bay and a little chilli, then combined later when plating. The vegetarian main option was Vignarola (pictured), a wonderful Roman spring vegetable stew, that can only be cooked for a very short period, when artichokes, broad-beans and fresh peas are all available at the same time. We wrote about Vignarola in the past and it’s a dish that is easier than it looks, although it needs attention, and one that can be really cooked to personal taste. As a classic roman dish, it is growing in popularity and can be eaten with soft cheese or as a starter by itself. The non veggie option was tangerine infused seabass, again inspired and adapted by Suzanne Goin’s recipe in the stunning Sunday Suppers at Lucques. In Italy the seabass we get is much smaller than the cold water ones in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, so we need to be more gentle with the amount of marinade, but end of season tangerines have an extra sweetness, that balances beautifully with the black rice & farro bed on which it is plated. The original recipe calls for pea-shoots to be added, but they were not available (not quite in season yet), so we mixed in some fresh tarragon from the garden.

For the Vignarola we used Frantoi Cutrera Primo Bio. We have recently switched to the ‘organic’ version of Primo. Same great, classic Sicilian style bursting with tomato leaf and decisive wild herbs but with the added certification of its organic olives.

For the Seabass we used Frantoio Librandi Carolea, which is a delicious delicate olive oil from the organic Librandi estate in Calabria that recalls the fresh olive and features sage and pine nut in fine balance.

We drank: San Polino Helichrysum Brunello di Montalcino 2012.  Epic, majestic and very well judged from this beautiful biodynamic estate.

Dessert:

Olive Oil Choccolate Cake by Diane Henry

This is a super luscious, dark, adult cake, that infuses the richness of chocolate and nuttiness of olive oil, served with a bit of sour cream. It’s a perfect ending to a long healthy spring meal.

We used: De Carlo’s Il Classico, the ideal butter substitute!

Nothing can really be prepped in advance in this meal, so give you self an early start and plan the sequence well. Start by marinating the fish, then do the cake, and when it’s in the oven, cook the rice & the farro at the same time. Pod the broad beans (it always takes much longer than you remember), and the peas. Then start working on the braised fennel dish, then the vignarola, and when the starters are finished you can cook the fish. There are no particularly complicated passages, but you need to keep your pace up, since there is a lot to do!

The recipes for Suzanne’s Goin’s dishes can be found online here and here , however we recommend you buy her cookbook to get the original understanding of these dishes.

Orange Olive Oil Cake

Breakfast

Breakfast in Italy is mainly a sweet affair. Cornetto (croissant) is the staple food in the morning at the bar with your cappuccino, while at home cake is wholly acceptable. So to balance our January reset and to bridge that Christmas feeling well into the new year, we are eating Orange Olive Oil Cake made with the most sensational oranges from the Librandi estate in Calabria and their exceptional olive oil.

The recipe itself is inspired by eclectic Australian food writer Julia Ostro, who learnt this from her time in Tuscany. It’s quite liquid (as it should be) so don’t use huge oranges – but do use all the rind.

Ingredients

3 oranges

3 eggs

500g caster sugar

300ml extra virgin olive oil

300ml milk

300g self-raising flour

400 ml water

Which EVOO to use?

We used Librandi Carolea from Calabria, which gives that buttery feel, and has a delicate fresh olive profile balanced with hints of almond and sage.

Method

Wash and cut 1 orange in thin slices.

In a wide pan slowly dissolve 200 grams of sugar in the water. Bring to a soft simmer and place the orange slices in the water, making sure they don’t overlap, for 20 minutes. Turn the orange slices around and cook for another 20 minutes. Once the rind is translucent and the water thick and syrupy place the slices on a wire-rack to cool down.

Keep the syrup for later use.

Preheat the oven at 180 C and grease a tin

Zest two oranges and mix the zest with the remaining sugar in a bowl. Take your time here and enjoy the fragrance.  Add the eggs and beat well, then add the milk, the juice from the the zested oranges and the olive oil.

In a separate bowl sift the flower, then add the liquid ingredients, mix well and pour into the baking tin. Cook for about 40 minutes, then take the cake out of the tin and let cool completely.

Once everything is cool, top the cake with the orange slices and add drizzle a bit of syrup.

IN THE KITCHEN: PRESERVING

When you tune yourself in to the seasonality of fruit and vegetables it’s impossible to resist the urge to preserve the ripest, most delicious flavours of the year. Since moving to Italy five years ago, we’ve tried and tested, talked about it (a lot!), smiled and even cried about it (don’t ever try to re-use wonky lids). Preserving is thoroughly rewarding and we wanted to share a few of our favourite recipes with you that include Olive Oil.

Ahead of that, a word on sterilising your jars. There’s not really much corner cutting you can do here. Essentially you need to wash thoroughly (I usually choose a hot cycle on the dishwasher) and then lay the jars on baking sheets and place in the oven at 120C for 10-15 minutes. Fill the jars when warm and make sure the top of the jar is completely clean when closing to ensure you get the perfect seal.

Spiced Feta in Olive Oil (Diane Henry, Salt Sugar Smoke)

Having lived in Greece many years ago, I have a real weakness for Greek ingredients and Feta is something I love. Once marinated, Feta becomes something even more incredible.

The Olive Oil tends to set around the Feta, so let it come to room temperature before serving.

Makes 2 x 250ml jars

175ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil, we use Grand Cru Nocellara Etnea from Frantoi Cutrera in Sicily, with its herbaceous, mineral aromatic character it meets the Feta perfectly.

Juice of 2 lemons

2 springs of thyme, destemmed

½ tsp chilli flakes

½ tsp fennel seeds

½ tsp black peppercorns

½ tsp white or pink peppercorns

250g feta cheese, broken in to chunks

Mix the olive oil with the lemon juice, thyme and chilli. Put the fennel seeds and all peppercorns in a mortar and crush them lightly to release the flavours. Add to the oil mixture.

Put the feta in to sterilized jars (not piping hot or the feta will melt!), and pour over the oil and lemon mixture. Seal and keep in the refridgerator. Make sure the feta is always covered with a layer of oil and eat within two weeks.

Great alongside houmous, taramasalata, baba ghanoush etc. or as part of a salad.

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Sugo di Pomodoro (our recipe, tried and tested!)

At this time of the year, we always make our winter store of sugo, the tomato base to so many other dishes including ragu, aglione, lasagne, ratatouille or briam to mention but a few.

Makes around 20-25 x 250g jars

10kg ripe, heavy tomatoes full of perfume and with a firm skin, roughly chopped

1 celery head, finely chopped

2 white onions, peeled and finely chopped

6 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped

1 tbsp brown sugar

salt and peper to taste

250ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil, we use either De Carlo Il Classico or Viola Tradizione, both make the most delicious addition to this sauce and we never regret putting this quality in to the sugo.

Gently sautee your soffrito (onion, carrot, celery) in Extra Virgin Olive Oil for 5-10 minutes until the onion has gone clear. I usually add salt at the beginning to prevent the onions from burning (is that just an old wives tale? Does anyone else do that?!)

At this point add in the chopped tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper and mix. Cover the pan and slowly simmer for an hour. The tomatoes should have relaxed in the pan giving plenty of liquid, if you are worried they aren’t juicy enough, add a small amount of water.

Our children are really fussy about there being ‘bits’ in their sugo, so I make it as smooth as possible. To do this, I blender it and then pass through a mouli.

Spoon in to sterilised jars when hot add a dash of EVOO and seal. Make sure you don’t use wonky old lids, you can use the jars again each year, but I recommend new lids each time to avoid disappointment!

Then place the jars on their sides in a crate and cover with a tea towel. Store for 2-3 days on their sides in a cool dark place (where you keep your wine and oil would be perfect). After this time, you can then turn the jars back upright and store in the cupboard/larder as usual.

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Garden Pesto (Pam Corbin, River Cottage Handbook of Preserves)

We often make a standard pesto with basil, which the boys love but sometimes, we like something slightly more grown up and this recipe is one of our favourites.

Makes 2 x 225g jars

50g nasturtium leaves

2-3 mint leaves

2 garlic cloves

6 nasturtium seed pods

50g pinenutes

75g hard goat’s cheese/pecorino/parmesan, finely grated

juice of half a lemon

Petals from 2 marigold flowers

150ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil, we use S’Ciappau from Paolo Cassini in Liguria, it is perfect for pesto.

Salt to taste

If you are a purist, you will want to pound the ingredients together with a pestle and mortar, but you can also whizz them in a food processor if you are short of time (just leave out the marigold petals and salt to fold in at the end).

Spoon the pesto into small, sterilised jars and pour a little olive oil over the surface to exclude any air. Cap and store ideally in the fridge. Consume within 4 weeks.

When you come to use the pesto, stir it well before spooning out. Make sure the surface of any pesto remaining in the jar is completely covered with oil before you return to the fridge in order to preserve it.

Anyone who is particularly interested to launch themselves in to the world of preserving might want to consider a day course and we highly recommend these two:

Rome, Latteria Studio

London, Newton and Pott