Bra seems like a long way away from the Mediterranean and olive trees. However, I can find links to the sea and my favourite tree even here. As I was browsing shops in Bra yesterday I noticed a lot of products sotto olio (literally under oil). Funghi, alici, olive, and formaggi are just a few foods that are preserved in oil. This is an age old preservation method and traditionally olive oil was the most common oil. Nowadays, food tends to get preserved in all sorts of oils, mainly seed oils, which tend to be much more neutral. However, artichokes in olive oil, for example, have an exquisite taste that would be lost if any other oil were used.
I am curious to see if there will be many cheeses sotto olio next week in Bra. I know it may sound strange but this is also fairly common in most parts of Italy. In particular, fresh cheeses are put in oil so that they keep and so their soft consistency remains. In this area tomini, small soft white cows’ cheeses (see photo), are frequently used for this operation. I will investigate and let you know what I find.
To read more about my stay in Bra, Italy take a look at my personal web site. I am going to try to keep this blog focused on olive oil.
Pizza is not always what you think it is in Italy; for example, in central Italy the tradition of the pizza di Pasqua lives on. This is a wonderful high, round cheese and egg bread. It is called a pizza but it has nothing to do with the Neapolitan kind and the pies we call pizza in North America. Pizza di Pasqua is a perfect compliment for the tasty salumi that are famous throughout Umbria. It is usually served as an antipasto before the meal or I have taken it on numerous picnics that are part of the Pasquetta tradition (literally little Easter–the day after Easter where Italians go out the countryside for a picnic). Easter is a major holiday in Italy and Pasquetta is one of the busiest days on Italian autostrade, as urbanites attempt to breath a little country air and down a few more calories. Ironically, this is usually one of the rainiest days in Italy each year. When I lived in Amelia there was really no need to drive around much on Pasquetta because the countryside was at my doorstep. I could eat my pizza di Pasqua in peace.
I only attempted making this pizza once and I had a hand from my neighbour, Loretta, who taught me her family recipe. There was quite a bit of preparation involved and a good deal of nail biting as we hoped the dough would rise correctly and form a sensual dome in the oven. My first year in Amelia, I bought my pizza di Pasqua in the local forno (there are no more communal ovens, but the bakery in Amelia still places the baker’s mark on each loaf of bread in that tradition). In small town bakeries these pizza are very good but supermarket facsimiles are not to be trusted–you can never be sure of the quality of the ingredients.
Pizza di Pasqua is a regional specialty that is popular in Umbria, Tuscany and Le Marche. You will not (or should not) find it in Milano or Bari. They have their own Easter traditions! I found a recipe for pizza di Pasqua that is quite similar to the one I made. Make sure you use top quality ingredients: Italian pecorino, free-range eggs and fresh extra virgin olive oil. Serve with prosciutto crudo or salsicia secche accompanied by a glass of Rosso di Montefalco or Lambrusco for something different.
Auguri e buona Pasqua!
As I have mentioned in previous posts, olive oil can be used in many recipes to replace butter. My neighbour in Amelia even made cookies and other baked goods using olive oil and no butter. Below is a recipe courtesy of Susan at Food Blogga, one of my favourite foodie blogs at the moment. There is also a lovely story that goes with the recipe, which can be found along with the original post on Susan’s site. The photo is also from this same site.
Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Lemon
Basic cake recipe:
1 ¼ c all-purpose flour
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 c sugar
½ cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup milk
2-3 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
The zest of 2 small lemons
The juice of 1 small lemon
1 cup grated Reggiano-Parmigiano
Several cranks of freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350. Line a 10-inch loaf pan or 9-inch round pan with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until well blended, about 1 minute. Whisk in the olive oil and milk.
Whisk the egg mixture into the flour mixture until thoroughly blended. Gently mix in the rosemary, lemon zest, lemon juice, black pepper, and Reggiano-Parmigiano.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool for about 20 minutes before removing the cake.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
At the recent Slow Food Vancouver tasting, I met Silvia Dotto, a talented local potter. We immediately recognised in each other a passion for olive oil, slow food and Italy. Silvia makes beautiful ceramic designs that are perfect for the table. Stayed tuned for future collaboration!
I thought her dipping bowl, pictured above, would be perfect for serving the great olive oil ‘dip’ known as pinzimonio. This is a little appetizer that comes from the Rome area, which simply consists of very good olive oil and a bit of salt. You slice fresh vegetables (carrots, celery and fennel, for example) and dip them in the oil. Some people like to add fresh cracked black pepper or garlic, but I like this simple version because it really lets you taste the olive oil. This offers a change from the usual dunking of bread in olive oil, which can be filling and hard on the waistline. Something this simple is truly wonderful when you have great ingredients.
This is a lovely food blog and the latest post is a delicious recipe for Italian pignoli cookies. These are outstanding.
Food “Blogga” Cooking and Recipe Blog
I was cooking some mashed potatoes last night and just as Sean was starting to mash (we actually use a ricer–the funny contraption above), I realised we had no butter! I have pretty much stopped buying butter since olive oil came into my life. No problem. I reached for my bottle of olive oil and poured liberally into the very dry looking potatoes. We added some milk, grated in a little parmigiano, salt and a head of roasted garlic. Wow, I have to say the results were impressive. Our mashed potatoes were every bit as rich as the standard buttery variety and the flavour had just a hint of olive, which went very well with the slow braised short ribs we had as a main course.
There are many recipes where you can substitute olive oil for butter. It is a delicious and healthy alternative. Here is a great recipe for mashed potatoes with kale and olive oil on the beautiful 101 cookbooks site.
What do you do with your Amelia Olive Oil? Please send your favourite olive oil recipe and I will post it here.
Sorry to burst a popular bubble around here but bread dipped in just olive oil (especially when it is good like ours) is much better than bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Save this combination for salad dressings. Restaurants started this culinary trend because they often use sub-standard olive oil that has no taste.
Do it the Italian way: toast (over a fire, if you can) some good quality crusty bread, rub a clove of garlic lightly on the slices and drizzle some good extra virgin over it and perhaps sprinkle a little sea salt. Voila! You have the simplest version of bruschetta (pronounced with a k).
Watch this blog for more olive oil recipes in the future.