Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Springtime in Umbria

The sunshine here in Vancouver has me thinking of springtime in Umbria. I think fall and spring are my favourite times of the year in Italy; this is when everything comes alive. The summer is arid and plant life withers away in the heat and the winter is cold causing people, plants and animals to hibernate. Spring is when everything comes back to life. The grass in the olive groves looks young and tender and little flowers bloom in white drifts that punctuate the hillsides. This is the time of year when we would go out foraging for wild asparagus. Everyone in Amelia has their favourite spot that is a closely guarded secret. I remember coming home with fists full of twisty thin asparagus and making simple past sauces finished with a drizzle of olive oil and a shaving of parmiggiano. Franca, my friends Walter and Mary's mother, made the best wild asparagus lasagna, which featured the lovely sausages they make in Amelia (my favourites were from the butcher's in the centro storico on via della Repubblica).

Olives are harvested and pressed only once a year, but caring for and monitoring the trees is a job that continues all year. Spring is when buds appear on the olive trees and just after Easter they bloom. Olive flowers have a very delicate floral fragrance that some Amerini say they can smell in the air in April. Most olive trees are wind pollinated or hermaphroditic, so this is an important moment for olive production. If there is too much rain or hail, the flowers can be damaged and pollination is nearly impossible. In late spring, farmers cross their fingers and wait to see if the little 'buds' that will become olives start forming (hopefully in abundance).

This is just one moment in the long and precarious life cycle of the olive. When I drizzle olive oil over my wild asparagus pasta, I can't help but think of all of the effort and buona fortuna that goes into making such a wonderful product. I am crossing my fingers for fine weather and a light breeze over the green Umbrian hills this spring. I am sure Francesco will keep us up to date on the progress of his olive groves.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Olio Crudo

Olio crudo literally means raw oil (versus cooked), which does not sound so appetizing. However, it is probably the best way to eat extra virgin olive oil. Amelia oil is perfect crudo and can be used for finishing grilled meats and vegetables as well as drizzled on salads and breads. Think of it as a condiment that is applied to food after cooking to give it a little more flavour, just like salt or pepper. Best of all, if you eat your oil 'raw' you get the most health benefits and don't lose any of the flavour. Cooking tends to break down the chemical composition of oil, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but fresh oil does lose some of its punch and fruitiness in the process.

Rick at Meinhardt's feels there is no point in cooking with extra virgin olive oil because of this loss of flavour and olive oil's smoking point (410F). After years of living and cooking in Italy, I am more of the traditionalist school and cook everything using extra virgin. Butter, canola--what's that? I figure Italian cuisine is pretty tasty so why change the basics. I have never met an Italian who cooks with grape seed or canola oil. Call me a purist and I am sure Rick is correct from a technical-chemical perspective, but I am still a bit of a romantic casalinga in the kitchen.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Slow Food dinner at the Pair Bistro

As some of you know, I am involved in the Slow Food movement here in Vancouver and in Italy. I have been working with Janis and Todd at the Pair Bistro to put together a dinner that reflects local, sustainable and seasonal food. We would like to invite all Slow Food members and non-members to join us at Pair Bistro for this meeting of like minds and taste buds:

Pair Bistro Slow Food Dinner
March 28th, 2007, 7 pm
3763 W.10th Ave. (near Alma)
Tel. 604-224-7211
$40 (members)/ $50 (non-members) per person
+optional wine pairings $25
(tax and gratuity not included)

Pair Bistro truly reflects the Slow Food philosophy by bringing local products and culinary know-how together to be enjoyed in good company. Join Janis and Todd for a special ‘slow’ dinner at their Point Grey neighbourhood bistro. This meal will showcase local food and down to earth cuisine, which will include many small informal courses and amuse bouches. Over the past few seasons, Janis has become increasingly involved in the UBC Farm. She would like to take this opportunity to share with you the wonderful activities going on at the farm, which has a strong commitment to sustainable food production. In keeping with the UBC Farm values, the menu will be chosen based on fresh, seasonal, local produce and meats. This culinary adventure will be accompanied by carefully selected BC wine pairings. We would like this to be an informal evening where you can meet new people who are enthusiastic to learn more about local food, enjoy simple pleasures and take time to eat slowly with friends.

Reservations and deposit (a credit card number will do) must be made before March 26th through Janis at the Pair Bistro (tel. 604-224-7211 or e-mail: Book early because there are only 34 seats available in this cozy restaurant and no walk-ins will be accepted. Unfortunately, we are unable to offer a vegetarian option for this meal.

For more information on the UBC Farm, visit:

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

New mailing list - please sign up

I am very excited about the new tool I discovered (thanks to Sean) for creating mailing lists. If you would like to be kept up to date on special offers and pre-ordering for fresh olive oil from Amelia Oil, fill in your name and e-mail in the form which you'll see over in the sidebar. I will be adding all our existing clients. There will always be an unsubscribe option on each e-mail.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary and Lemon

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.

Thanks, Susan.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Pinzimonio and Silvia Dotto ceramics

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.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Food "Blogga" Cooking and Recipe Blog

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

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Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes: No butter, no problem

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.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The basics of olive oil storage

Now you have your olive oil home, you may be wondering about the best way to store. There are a few environmental factors you should take into consideration: mainly light and temperature. Amelia Oil is bottled and packaged in dark glass bottles and tins to protect it from the harmful effects of light, which speeds up the aging process. Excessive heat also has a similar effect. The best temperature for storing olive oil is 56F but room temperature is acceptable.

A number of people have asked me about storing oil in the refrigerator. This will prolong the life of your oil but don't be surprised if it solidifies when it reaches 36F. This happens when the waxes in the oil crystallise. Once the oil is brought back up to temperature it will return to its liquid state.

I would recommend enjoying your olive oil while it is fresh and full of wonderful flavour and anti-oxidants. Ideally your 2007 Amelia olive oil should be consumed within a calendar year but it will certainly keep for up to two years, although it will lose some of its flavour and colour as it ages. Store your tins or bottles in a cool dark cupboard and decant small quantities into a stainless steel container or glass bottle for everyday use. For more technical details on olive oil storage and the aging process of oil take a look at the Olive Oil Source's useful page.

We have also imported a few beautiful fusti, which are perfect for storing larger quantities of oil: they make decanting clean and easy. If you are interested in 5L and 15L food-grade stainless steel fusto, please send us an e-mail. These also look wonderful perched on the kitchen counter and are very practical for the pantry.

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