Photo courtesy of Brianna Tittel
Welcome to the fifth and final week of the 5 Pantry Essentials series. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ingredient spotlights, nutrition info and recipes over the past five weeks. Here’s a recap of the ingredients covered so far:
Week One: canned salmon (Salmon-Potato Cakes)
Week Two: quinoa (Cilantro-Lime Quinoa with Avocado)
Week Three: black beans (Spiced Black Beans and Rice with Mango Salsa)
Week Four: onions (Caramelized Onion and Chickpea Dip)
And finally, week five: olive oil.
In cooking I use olive oil so frequently I almost forget I’m using it, as I think most people do. And it is for this reason that olive oil is so indispensable and essential to every cook’s pantry. It’s that underlying ingredient that we’re ever dependant upon…and rightfully so. Here’s why.
- Antioxidant power. Here’s a bit of info regarding the antioxidants in olive oil excerpted from Natural News: “For starters, olive oil – particularly extra virgin olive oil - is very high in antioxidants, one in particular called DHPEA-EDA. When researchers exposed red blood cells under oxidative stress to this and other antioxidants, they found that the DHPEA-EDA provided the best ‘stress-alleviation,’ if you will, fighting off the free radicals to a greater extent than the three other antioxidant compounds used in the study.”
- Get healthy and stay young with olive oil. Centuries ago, olive oil was first used on the body, not in it. Olive oil was used as a massage oil by ancient olympians, a hair softener and nail strengthener by people of royalty, and a cure for hangovers and aching muscles by physicans. It was not until many years later that people discovered the amazing culinary benefits of olive oil. Packed with vitamins A, D, E, and K, “liquid gold” (as some people refer to it) is thought to slow down the aging process as well.
- Aid absorption. Some studies have indicated that by consuming a healthy fat such as olive oil with foods rich in antioxidants such as lycopene or lutein, the absorption of those compounds is improved. Try enjoying a spinach salad (lutein) drizzled with extra virgin olive oil or adding a splash to tomato sauce (lycopene) for increased absorption.
- Extra virgin all the way. Choose extra virgin olive oil for all cooking purposes instead of virgin or light olive oil. The extra virgin variety ensures the best quality and taste as it is made directly from whole olives and only through mechanical processes (no chemicals used in processing). Make sure the label reads “first cold pressed” as well. This indicates that the oil in the bottle was extracted from the first press of whole olives, not a second or third press made from already mashed olives.
What Makes it Essential
Like I said, olive oil is one of those ingredients that sneaks into my cooking so often I almost don’t even know I’m using it. How often do I just reach for the bottle by the stove and drizzle some into a pan without even thinking about it? Many times I’m just using the oil as a way to keep something (like chicken or burgers, for instance) from sticking to the pan and burning. But other times, like when I’m finishing off a pot of hearty minestrone, I drizzle in some olive oil at the end for that extra layer of richness and flavor that is so unique and delicious.
I can’t even think of making a salad dressing without olive oil. Honestly, I can’t. Every dressing I’ve made in the past six months (at least) has started with a stream of golden, glossy olive oil. Or what about pestos, dips, spreads? How would they get their smoothness without a bit of oil to get things moving? Several times I’ve forgotten to add a splash of olive oil to my hummus when I’m making it and boy, can you tell a difference. Without the oil, it really lacks something. I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly—but the oil is a must.
From searing meat and fish to whipping up sauces and spreads to whisking together dressings and vinaigrettes, olive oil is simply a necessity in every cook’s pantry. Like last week’s ingredient, I think olive oil takes a back seat in the kitchen sometimes. But when you stop to think about it, olive oil is one of the most foundational and central elements to all of cooking.
Check out this book, The Passionate Olive: 101 Things to Do with Olive Oil, for more information on the history and uses of olive oil. It’s a fun little book with some tasty recipes as well.
I could have posted about 90% of my recipe collection here since olive oil shows up in so many of them! Instead of creating the longest blog post in all of history, however, I decided to feature a recipe using olive oil in it’s simplest and most delicious form. Today’s recipe is for a Sweet Potato Salad with Thyme Vinaigrette. While I cook with olive oil daily and use it often for sauteing, making sauces, dressing pasta or pilaf, etc. etc., to me it is best enjoyed as a pure and uncooked vinaigrette drizzled over some type of colorful vegetable.
When veggies are at their peak in the summertime, there’s nothing better than a plate of tomatoes and mozzarella drizzled with oil and balsamic, or a bowl of steamed green beans tossed with lemon juice and olive oil, or a bunch of multi-colored beets roasted with oil and garlic in the oven until sweet and brown. I’m salivating like a labrador just thinking about it all! That’s the wonderful thing about olive oil (and vegetables, too, for that matter): there’s so many ways to enjoy it, it just never gets old.
Sweet Potato Salad with Thyme Vinaigrette – Serves 4
4 small-medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbs. red wine vinegar
1 tbs. water
1 tbs. Dijon mustard
2 tbs. fresh thyme leaves, minced
Salt, to taste
Chopped parsley, for garnish
Fill a medium-large pot with about 1-inch of water. Insert steamer basket into the pot making sure that the water does not come up through the holes. Add sweet potato chunks to pot. Place over medium-high heat, covered, and steam potatoes until just tender when pierced with a fork but still holding their shape—about 10-12 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, water, mustard, and thyme until combined well. Add steamed sweet potatoes to the bowl along with salt to taste. Toss gently to combine. Transfer to serving dish and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve warm or room temperature.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on pantry essentials. It’s been a blast to create recipes and write posts each week. If you have ideas for future series topics (or just single post topics) you’d like to see on this blog, please leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear from you. Your olive-oil-guzzling blogger,
This post is linked to Slightly Indulgent Tuesday and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday.
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