Monday, June 29, 2009

help...i am addicted to extra virgin olive oil!!?? part one

this is not a secret to regular readers...i use excellent quality extra virgin olive oil (e.v.o.o) in almost all of my recipes. i talk about it, blog about it, have dozens of bottles in my pantry...use it on everything...even as a face moisturizer...and try to learn everything i can about this liquid gold. happily, the napa valley is emerging as one of the world's top producers so buying local oil is incredibly just need to know what to look for.

so it was a highlight of my year when i opened my email a few weeks ago to see i had been invited to attend the artisanal olive oil producer, round pond estate's, "fresh olive oil day". the invitation read as follows:

"Beloved by “Fresh Oil Fanatics”, our fresh oil days offer a complete experience as our knowledgeable guides explain both our sustainable approach to olive cultivation and our time-honored olive oil extraction process. In addition, guests will visit the mill and savor samples of our fresh olive oil before making their personal “by the milliliter” selection."

how cool does that sound? of course, this was an event i could not miss... peter and i...along with our good friend mary...met early saturday morning two weeks ago and drove to rutherford (about 15 minutes from downtown napa) to visit the estate. i blog often about the amazing food and wine produced in the napa valley. last year i shared with you the story of another favorite napa olive oil producer, long meadow ranch, in my story popcorn and olive oil?. today, i thought i would share a little bit about the production of olive oil in addition to telling round pond's story.

i have been crazy about olive oil my entire life but... as a kid..."artisanal extra virgin olive oil" was unheard of here in the united states...we just bought the big tin jugs of "olive oil" at the local italian market. i think it was sometime in the 80's that good e.v.o.o. starting appearing in restaurants...and we learned to dip our bread in the stuff instead of using butter. i was instantly hooked and started learning as much as possible about the production of e.v.o.o...what to look for, how to buy, how to store...and i pretty much eliminated butter in everything but the most delicate of my baked goods. later, i had the good fortune of traveling to europe often for business...and started buying italian, spanish, greek and even french e.v.o.o. from tiny local producers and lugging it back on the plane...(pre-911 i hand carried bottles on the plane and checked my luggage)... my business associate friends were buying cool clothing, shoes and handbags from all over europe...i was stocking up on olive oil...i should have known then that fashion was not the career for me!!)

fast forward to living in san francisco and then napa....suddenly, locally gown olive oil started showing up in restaurants and markets...i started meeting producers at farmer's markets and... slowly but surely...i stopped buying foreign oil (that sounds funny out of context) and developed a passion for e.v.o.o from the napa valley.

i get tons of emails from readers with questions about olive oil. i am so not the expert on the technical side...but i thought i would share a bit about what i have learned in today's post...and then add additional information in future stories...
first of all...the basic question...what is extra virgin olive oil?
there are grades of olive oil...the simplest breakdown is extra virgin, virgin, olive oil and pomace...note, this is not a complete listing of the grades of oil...and i am not getting too technical because...why??
i think the main reason most people ask the question is so they will know what to look for when purchasing... fyi, i use extra virgin...and only extra virgin... in everything. some people use lower quality oil in their cooking...i do not. some people say you can't tell the difference once the oil is heated. i can...but make the decision that is right for you.
the definition of extra virgin olive oil is 100% olive oil that meets the following 4 criteria: a) made from mechanical means, b) the acidity level of the oil (oleic acid) is 0.8 percent or less, c) cold pressed, d) taste must be free of defects....and the label should confirm each of these requirements...

for detailed explanations of each of these terms you can check out the international olive oil council's (IOOC) website or the website the olive oil source . these sites have been incredibly helpful to me as a self proclaimed olive oil nerd...if you don't need the details...just check the label to ensure your oil meets this standard...

how is olive oil made?
it sounds obvious...but olive oil is made from the oil of is amazing how often i get asked this question...the easy answer is you smash an olive...remove the solids and the "olive water" and what is left is olive oil....the more complicated answer is the "how" of this process.
for years i have read about olive harvests...and the "press" that leads to olive oil. i had this totally romantic vision of making olive oil the way they do in small towns in italy. it takes a lot of olives to make a small quantity of olive italians having only a small number of olive trees bring their olives to a community press...old stone presses...and a process is created where the olives are all pressed and then you get to take home the amount of oil your olives have created. neighbors and friends gather around waiting for the olive oil to be finished...and they prepare fabulous meals while they wait...and then finish the dishes with some of the freshly made olive oil...what a party...what an experience.
so it was this image i had in mind the first time i experienced an olive press here in napa. it was a couple of years ago and i was lucky enough to participate in the olive harvest for a local, organic farm. i then went to watch the creation of the oil at a small commercial press...oh man! i needed to lose my romantic imagery really fast....have you ever gone on a winery tour? well, the process is similar...all stainless steel equipment behind loads of glass...sterile and clean...but so not the "historic barn, stone wheels, wooden barrels, fire pit grilling fresh bread to taste the oil" of my dreams.
oh well, the process is still interesting...and attending the round pond event allowed me to ask a ton of questions....and.... while there is a lot of steel...they do use stone wheels...and no glass!

so briefly...the process is as follows...the olives are harvested in late fall...timing depends on the type of oil you want to make...and how quickly the olives ripen in a given year. the earlier you harvest, the more green olives you will have...the greener the olives the "bigger" the oil. most olive oil aficionados covet really big "burn the back of your throat" oils. the later in season you harvest, the more black olives will be in the mix...this produces a much softer oil. green olives yield much less oil...which makes early harvest oils much more expensive...but so worth the price.
remember when i told you that one of the characteristics of extra virgin olive oil is an oil with zero defects? to accomplish this, many artisanal producers, including round pond, handpick their olives...which makes the process incredibly labor intensive....the olives fall to the ground which has been covered with tarps. the olives are hand gathered and placed into bins which are rushed to the press.

i started to write about the steps in making e.v.o.o...but round pond does a really terrific job on their site. it will be more accurate to quote here is their process...

"These olives are pressed by variety in either a stone mill or hammer mill. Utilizing two different pressing methods allows us to extract contrasting characteristics so that we are able to create singular oils with unique charm, depth and complexity. Traditional stone mill pressing provides less stress to the skins and pits, thereby exuding a smoother, less pungent oil; whereas, the hammer mill perforates the skins and pits of the olives to produce sharper, more robust flavors.

Once the olives are pressed and kneaded, the paste undergoes a separation process to eliminate any residual water so that the resulting oil is pure and concentrated. The oil is then funneled into stainless steel tanks, under nitrogen, until it can further settle.

After a patient resting period, the art of the blend begins. Trained by Italian mill masters, our skilled team meticulously tastes each oil varietal, passionately testing dozens of blending combinations to achieve a perfect master blend that embodies an ideal balance of fruit, aromatics and warmth. Because the oil is precious – with each tree producing only one gallon of olive oil – we blend in extremely small lots and bottle on demand to ensure the richest, most vibrant flavors possible. "

did you know there are thousands of olive varietals? i didn't until i started researching olive oil. round pond handcrafts two different blends of e.v.o.o., an italian blend and a spanish blend. the italian blend is made from early harvest frantoio, leccino, pendolino, morina and coratina olives. it is a big, peppery oil...nice when drizzling over grilled bread, fresh vegetables, and meats. the later harvest spanish blend...made from mission, manzanillo and sevillano olives is good for mixing with other in a vinaigrette.

both blends are really good...but, i must confess, i am much more of a single varietal girl...i like tasting each oil...and fresh olive days gives me that opportunity because the individual oils are offered for taste...and purchase. i sampled all and...true to form...fell in love with the big one...the leccino. i tasted from a small cup...coughed when i swallowed...and knew this was the one for me...(the other people standing around me laughed...did not believe me that the coughing was a good really is...and they purchased sevillano). the reason for the what you like...or... do what i a bunch of different types and use them in different ways...

o.k. i told you this was part 1 of the story of my addiction to extra virgin olive oil...we have just scratched the surface of growing, harvesting and pressing olives. part 2 will cover tasting oils, discovering what you like, where to buy and how to use...fresh, in cooking and in baking. my site is full of recipes using e.v.o.o. and, although i usually include a couple of recipes in each i am going to encourage you to use e.v.o.o. in its purest, simplest form. buy the best quality you can afford and drizzle over grilled/toasted bread...sprinkle with a bit of sea salt..and you are good to go. or try rubbing freshly grilled bread with a garlic clove before the e.v.o.o./salt finish....or rub the bread with the cut side of a fresh tomato..drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with salt....absolutely delicious....enjoy!
oh...and when we were walking around the round pond estate snapping photos we discovered this old, antique fixture...still not the press of my dreams...but pretty cool nonetheless....

do you love e.v.o.o. too? tell me your favorite way to use it in the comments section of this post...and...until next time....remember our the best quality organic or sustainably grown ingredients you can...and don't mess them up with overly complicated techniques...


diane padoven

napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green life of style"™

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

are you a mangiafagioli?

i am. mangiafagioli means bean eater in italian. this is how most of italy refers to the tuscans because so many traditional dishes in tuscany use beans as a main ingredient. o.k...i live in napa but...since i am half italian...and eat tons of beans....i think the term applies. and it just sounds cool...say it...mangiafagioli.
sounds good, right?

i told you a few posts ago how much i love cooking with beans in the story fresh or canned?...and provided a few ideas along with the recipe for my baked beans which calls for canned beans. i was wandering through the local farmer's market last week and spied fresh, dried pinto beans in a large bushel basket and dried garbanzo beans in another. i bought a bagful of each. now, i know that "fresh, dried" sounds a bit odd. what i mean is beans that have very recently been picked and dried. if you are used to dried beans from the grocery store, this will rock your world. you never know how old the beans are when you purchase them from large chains. i find that the older the beans are the tougher they matter how long you soak them. freshly dried beans are tender and just taste better. they don't require as much soaking time but... since i use the "soak overnight" method...this doesn't really matter to me....the better taste does.

i find beans incredibly versatile...and add them to soups, stews, rice dishes and pasta all the time. so i soaked and cooked the garbanzo beans...then sautéed onions and garlic in extra virgin olive oil, added fresh sage leaves and the garbanzos along with grey salt and freshly cracked pepper...tossed the mixture with pasta and served with shredded parmigiano-reggiano cheese....delicious.

i decided to make a big pot of pinto beans last saturday because i could use them in a number of recipes this week and.... because i also had bought cavalo nero which is a black italian kale...i decided to create a beans & greens dish.

i served the beans the first night with a green salad and fresh warm tortillas and grilled a steak for peter. what a terrific dinner. a couple of nights later, i created our version of chili mac...heating up a couple of cups of beans...along with plenty of the bean gravy (the liquid that is created with the beans), added some cooked pasta...i used fusilli...and a couple handfuls of shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese, stirred until the cheese was melted and sprinkled chopped green onions on top....really, really good. last night, i poached a couple of eggs and served them on top of heated up beans...roasted some potatoes...and had brunch for dinner.

see what i mean by versatile?....and i didn't even count making burritos :)
napa farmhouse 1885 beans and greens
4 cups dried pinto beans
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, chopped
1 bunch cavalo nero, stems trimmed and greens chopped into bite sized pieces (if not available, any swiss chard will work)
extra virgin olive oil
8 cups water
1 cup tomato sauce (i use leftover marinara if i have it)
4 tbsp farmhouse organic rub (or 3 tbsp chili powder and 1 tbsp dried oregano)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp dark chocolate cocoa powder
1 canned chipotle pepper, minced
1 tsp-1 tbsp adobo sauce (to taste...amount depends on how spicy you like your food)
sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper

place dry beans in large pot...cover with water to equal 2 x amount of beans. allow to soak overnight.

next day, drain beans and set aside. sauté onion, garlic, carrot and cavalo nero in 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil until onion is translucent. add beans and rest of ingredients except the salt & pepper. bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. when boiling, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for approx. 1 hour. add extra water if necessary. beans should mash easily when pressed with the back of a spoon. add salt and pepper to taste. serve as is...or follow one of the suggestions listed above. beans can be kept in refrigerator for a few days...or frozen for up to three months...

do you have favorite recipes for beans? please share them in the comments section of this post...or just tell me your favorite way to eat/prepare..fresh or canned beans...
have a good week!
diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green life of style"™
follow me on twitter ....and please sign up for our mailing list on the right hand side of the blog...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

do you love fava beans?

i am a huge fava bean fan....and eat them as often as possible during season...i fill bags and bags at the weekly farmers' market and collect numerous recipes to prepare. is my confession...i NEVER follow through with the recipes...i prepare them exactly the same three ways every an easy appetizer served fresh with pecorino cheese and terrific wine or a light lunch/dinner first course mashed into a garlicky delicious puree spread on bruschetta...or tossed in a quick pasta...all three are good, but my favorite is the puree spread on bruschetta...

of course i will provide a recipe...but first i want to discuss the preparation. favas seem to scare off many people...even some "foodies" who love to cook. the process sounds complicated and labor intensive...and, to be honest, there are two steps...but i make the preparation part of the fava bean eating me on will enjoy everything from purchase to prep to consuming....

if you have never seen a raw fava bean you should know that they come in pods...kind of like a giant pea pod...and you split the pod to remove the beans the same way you do with peas...the difference is the "interior" of the shell. are all going to know just how odd i am when i finish this description..but can't help it....i love this...the interior is made up of this spongy, protective "stuff" (have no idea of the technical term) that cradles and protects the beans. it makes me happy just to shell can't help but feel really close to the farm...even if you live in a major city....and having friends and family participate in the shelling really does become a party.

so the process is as follows....
*split each pod down the center seam (just use a fingernail to get started) and open like a book.
* pop out each bean
at this point the prep depends on the season...mid season, you need to peel each bean...very early in the season you do not...and you can eat them raw...straight from the mother-in-law, who was 100% italian, shared the tradition of inviting friends over...serving early season favas this way...everyone would shell their own beans...and eat with sea salt, pecorino cheese and wine...the shelling, eating, drinking, talking and laughing makes a terrific party.
a fava popping out of the skin

as i said...after the first couple of weeks of fava season, you need to peel the beans because the skin gets tough and a bit the next step after removing the beans from their pods is to

*add the favas to a pot of rapidly boiling water for just a minute (do not overcook)
*remove from pot with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.
*when the favas are completely cool, drain and remove the outer skin. this is pretty easy as they will have started to pop out just need to give a very light squeeze and they will do the work for you. this is easy...but time either plan ahead...or solicit help :)
favas with skin, out of skin and one popping out to show the difference

you are now ready to use your favas in your favorite recipes...they need just a quick saute and they are good to go.

i told you my favorite way to eat favas is pureed into a garlicky spread...easy and delicious...

fava bean spread
3 pounds favas (peeled and skinned following the techniques listed above)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 peeled garlic cloves, smashed
additional extra virgin olive oil
grey salt
freshly cracked black pepper
tiny pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

add favas, 3 tbsp e.v.o.o. and garlic cloves to saute pan...cook until the favas are tender and can be mashed easily when pressed with a spoon (10-15 minutes). stir occasionally during this step and add a bit more of e.v.o.o. if necessary. when favas are cooked, put the entire contents of saute pan...favas, garlic and the olive oil...into a food processor or blender. pulse until you have a chunky paste...i like some texture...but keep going until it is as smooth as you like. add additional olive oil and pulse again. the amount of oil depends on your preference...start with 2 tbsp...add the red pepper flakes...pulse again and season to taste...add additional oil if needed to achieve a smooth, spreadable puree.

serve the fava bean spread with slices of bruschetta and pecorino or parmigiano-reggiano. i spread some puree on a slice of bruschetta, top with a bit of cheese, drizzle additional extra virgin olive oil (best quality is important with this) and sprinkle a bit of grey salt....amazingly good!!

sadly, fava bean season is just about over...i waited way too long to publish this, if you can, get to your farmer's market this week...see if they still have them immediately...and try this really will thank me..not that you need to...but i would love to hear what you think. also, for fellow fava bean lovers...what are your favorite fava recipes?

have a good week..and happy june!


diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885™
"live a green live of style"™

follow me on twitter...and please sign up for our mailing list on the right hand sidebar of this blog...thanks!