CULTIVAR

 

There are around 800 different Olive Cultivars in Italy alone, many of which are used for Olive Oil. Similarly to grape varieties in wine, the Olive cultivar influences the flavour profile of your oil.  Different cultivars, depending on size of fruit, thickness of the skin, composition of the pulp can produce different yields, varying concentrations of anti-oxidants and overall different quality levels.

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)

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.

Panzanella

Living in Tuscany, it’s always important to have a use for yesterday’s bread because it becomes like a bullet overnight due to its lack of salt. Tomatoes are great friends with bread and a host of other ingredients, particularly cucumber, red onion, olives, capers, basil, oregano, white cheeses…. and the list could go on. So you can pretty much try any combination and see how you prefer it.

It’s worth remembering this fruit has a high water content, so you need to consider summer-ripe tomatoes will give plenty of juice, especially when salted.

Crostoni for Lunch

3 Sourdough Crostoni

Summer Recipes

Living in Southern Tuscany one should not complain about the food – and we don’t – but we do miss good sourdough, like the one we used to get a Gail’s when we lived in London. So when we happen to be in Florence we always try to pop in to S.Forno in the Oltrarno to pick a couple of loaves – and spend the next few days binging on delicious (non Tuscan) bread!

Crostoni (Tuscan open sandwiches) are perfect for lunch, and especially in September when you start wanting something slightly warmer to eat in the middle of the day.  I’ve made 3 different types here: with zucchini flowers, anchovies and gruyere, with brie, parma ham and figs, and a slightly spicy one with chard.

There are different flavours at play in each crostone, so you can experiment a little bit with different Olive Oils (the bieta crostone, for example, will want one with a stronger impact, such as Viola’s Inprivio or Franci’s Le Trebbiane, while the brie based crostone would work best with one of from Frantoio di Riva on the banks of lake Garda).

Ingredients

Serves 2 for lunch or 4 as a starter

 

Crostone ai fiori di zucca, gruyere e alici

2 slices of bread.

2 big zucchini flowers

2 anchovy fillets

Gruyere Cheese 50 g – sliced.

 

Crostone con brie, prosciutto e fichi

2 slices of bread.

2 slices of brie

2 figs, cut in quarters, skin off.

2 slices of prosciutto crudo

Little bit of thyme

 

Crostone alla bieta ripassata

2 slices of bread.

Chard 150g

1 small Garlic clove whole

1 small peperoncino (chili), cut in small pieces.

Zest of ½ a lemon

Method

Wash the chard well and boil in salted water until tender (about 5 minutes), drain, squeezing all the water out of it, then slice in small pieces.

Cut the base from the zucchini flower, taking off the stem.

Put the 2 slices of bread under the grill.

Pour some oil in a pan on a medium heat and cook the garlic clove to ‘flavour’ the oil (don’t burn it). When soft and brown, take the garlic out of the pan and add the chili, turn the heat up a little and put the chard in to absorb the flavours. When drying up take off the heat.

Take the bread off the grill, turn around so the untoasted side is facing up.

On two slices layer the gruyere, anchovy fillets and flowers and put back under the grill.

Toast the other 4 slices of bread.

On two of these drizzle some olive oil, place the chard, a little pepper and the lemon zest, then some more EVOO on top

On the other two, layer the brie, then the ham, then the figs, sprinkle a few thyme leaves on them, a little bit of pepper and a drizzle of EVOO

Take the crostoni from the oven, when the cheese is melted, and drizzle a little bit of EVOO over the flowers, plate and serve immediately.

Chickpeas and Peach Salad Recipe

Ceci and White Peach Salad

Summer Recipes

When white peaches, especially the flat ones called Saturnine come in to season, our family goes crazy for them.  The season lasts no longer than 8 weeks so we try to use them as much as possible, also in salads.

Chickpeas (ceci in Italian) make a great partner because their earthiness meets the highly floral perfume of the white peaches perfectly – here opposites really do attract.

This salad makes a great lunchtime dish to accompany a board of cured meats or cheeses and because the chickpeas are fairly filling, it means you tend to eat less bread.

Ingredients

4 people as a side dish or part of a lunch

350-500g chickpeas, depending on your appetite.  Soak dried chickpeas over night or if you’re in a hurry use pre-cooked ones, ideally the plump ones from a jar for best results

2 white fleshed peaches

10 cherry tomatoes

1/2 small red onion

flat leaf parsley

salt, pepper and olive oil

Which EVOO to use?

Typically I dress this with a squeeze of lemon and a central Italian extra virgin olive oil that has a good level of bitterness such as Il Sincero from Frantoio Viola or Le Trebbiane from Frantoio Franci.

Method

Drain and rinse your chickpeas and place in a serving bowl.  Chop the white fleshed peaches, retaining the skin and quarter the cherry tomatoes.

Finely slice the red onion and flat leaf parsley.

Combine well and season to taste.

Prawn and Salmon salsa recipe

Salmon and Prawn Salsa

Summer Recipes

This is a very uplifting dish, that our friend Fay made for us once, and I’ve happily replicated it many times over the summer. It’s spicy, refreshing, easy to make and a very different flavour profile than anything we get in Italy over the summer.  It needs a few ingredients that we don’t get easily in Tuscany (such as coriander!), but you should be able to find.

Ingredients

For 4 people

Salmon 200gr cut in small slices

Precooked peeled prawns 200gr, cut in similar size as the salmon

Friggitelli peppers 100gr (they are thin long green peppers)

A large tomato: 100gr

Fresh chilies: 2 (or more if you like it super spicy), thinly sliced

Juice of 4 limes

A bunch of coriander chopped

Method

Slice the friggitelli (or other type green) peppers in very small slices.

Take out and discard the inside pulp off the tomato and slice the outer layer in very small bits.

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, making sure the lime juice coats the salmon pieces very well, ad salt, pepper and olive oil and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.

Great served with crispy Ciaccino (Tuscan crisp bread) or Sardinian Pane Carasau.