Olive oil. Balsamic vinegar.
Basic ingredients that you can combine with other ingredients to make a dish. Or use those ingredients to BE the dish.
If you are using the oil or vinegar to make a dish, vs BE the dish you will use different ones. I sauté vegetables, or brown meat in olive oil all the time. For those dishes, I prefer to use “house” brand olive oil. I don’t want the olive oil to flavor what I am cooking. My preference is Central Markets store brand. Its great for cooking. But when I want the oil to enhance the dish I am cooking, or if I am planning on dipping bread in it, I want an olive oil that I can “taste.” I prefer one that has a more nutty, herbaceous, peppery flavor, with a bit of a “Bite” at the end that reminds me that I am eating “good” olive oil.
Over the years as we have traveled to places that make GREAT olive oil, I usually pick up a few bottles as souvenirs. Olive oil, if stored in a cool dry place, keeps well. However, this week I used the last drop out of the last bottle I had in my stash. I was sad. And then nervous followed by panic about buying a bottle of “good stuff” at the grocery. Olive oil is one of those “unregulated” items. ANY bottle can be labeled as EEVO and put in a pretty bottle with an enticing label and mixed with canola oil or some other mystery oil and stuck on the shelf. You may NEVER know what it REALLY is or where it came from. Check out this article from Clean Food House to help you make educated choices at the grocery.
Then there is my love of “GOOD” Balsamic vinegar.
A few years ago, I was invited on a girl’s trip to Europe. We went to London, Paris and then found
ourselves smack dab in Tuscany in a remote but gorgeous villa called Villa La Palagina. While we were there, we took a day trip arranged by the Villa that took us to wineries and olive oil vineyards, quaint villages, lovely outdoor café, and to a small place that makes Balsamic Vinegar. This was the real deal! So interesting how the vinegar starts and is stored in a barrel where there is an opening at the top that is covered with fine mesh and rocks are set on to. The room that the barrels sit in is not climate controlled, so as the liquid get hot and begins to evaporate, the
acid in the vinegar hits the rocks, causing the minerals in the rocks to be released back into the vinegar. There were over 30 barrels in the room. At the end of each year, the last barrel is bottled and then the liquid from the other casks, are moved up to the next smaller barrel. Every year, the heat causes the vinegar to lose some of its water and the volume decreases. Some of the casks are made of different wood the flavor of the wood is transferred to the vinegar. I bought a very small jar of the 30-year-old vinegar. It almost has the viscosity of syrup. The flavor was incredible, and I saved it for special occasions. Fresh caprese salad and special occasion oil and balsamic dipping.
Well, unfortunately, my little bottle was not a bottomless bottle and I used it all up. So last fall when I was in Dallas, I picked up moderately expensive bottle of balsamic vinegar aged in oak barrels from California. I was so very disappointed. It was not even as good as the cheap house balsamic vinegar that I use for cooking.
Last week, after my trip to the Edmond Farmers Market where I scored REALLY GOOD tomatoes, I thought, I really need to find a place where can I get quality oil and vinegar, with out spending a fortune, and yet be confident when I get the bottle home and “taste” it I wont be disappointed?
Well, thanks to my friend Robert of Trawick Images, I ended up at the Oil Tree. He had been there a few Sunday’s ago and RAVED about it and recommended I check it out. Sometimes I am a terrible procrastinator. On Friday, I FINALY made a point to go by and check out his hoopla. It is every bit worth the trip. I could kick myself for waiting so long to go there. The staff was amazingly friendly, and knowledgeable, yet I didn’t feel like there was a hard or hurried sell. The young lady let me try a couple of olive oils, and since I knew what I was after, it was a quick choice. I picked the Hojiblanca EVO. I wanted a full-flavored oil that is robust and peppery, with a bit of a “bite” at the end. Perfect for dipping or drizzling.
Next, I moved on to the Balsamic vinegar. Again, I wanted just a plain multi-functional vinegar. She recommended three to taste. I like two of them so much I bought them both. The first is the Neapolitan. I would consider it a great everyday balsamic vinegar, good for cooking and using in salad dressings. The second one is the one I’m most excited about. It is called Traditional Style. It reminds me of the vinegar that I got in Tuscany. It’s aged for 18 years which makes it a very rich and syrupy vinegar that when put in your mouth wakens all of the taste buds. Can you tell I’m excited about it? Even as I’m typing my mouth is dreaming about dipping bread into it!
I was so excited in fact that last night for dinner I cooked a steak with sautéed mushrooms, mashed potatoes and a green salad with fresh greens from my garden, tomatoes, bacon, and chunks of mozzarella cheese and fresh herbs. I tossed it with a drizzle of the Hojiblanca EVO olive oil and the Traditional Style balsamic vinegar and topped it with fresh cracked pepper. My husband commented on how he liked the lettuce, but I think what he really liked was the balsamic and oil combo.
I had also picked up a fresh baguette on my way home. It is really yummy to dip into a shallow bowl filled with a drizzle of oil, a splash of vinegar, (ok, so maybe a double splash) and fresh cracked pepper!
Yesterday, I was telling Cate about my new find and she said she likes to make a dipping plate with oil and vinegar and adds some grated parmesan and red pepper flakes. That may be what I’m fixin’ next.
So, don’t panic if you are out of EEVO or Balsamic vinegar. Don’t procrastinate like me. Just zip on over to The OIL Tree.
Now that I have the basics, I can’t wait to go back try some of the specialty flavors.
They also have some other cool kitchen gadgets and specialty food items.