Stare at shelves filled with olive oil, and it's enough to make your head spin.
Do you want Spanish, Greek or Italian? Virgin, extra virgin, pure or light? Something infused with garlic, rosemary, chiles or lemon? Imported or domestic? Fruity, floral, earthy, peppery?
From big brands to artisan varieties, an ever-expanding assortment of olive oils can be found at supermarkets and oil specialty shops. Since late 2012, at least four such stores have opened in Omaha, giving consumers a wider range of options.
As merchants promote the ingredient's versatility with tasting events and cooking classes and restaurant chefs showcase what can be done with oils, many home cooks are exploring different ways to use oils in recipes that go beyond simple salad dressings.
We talked to several olive oil experts, including local chefs, shop owners and officials from the North American Olive Oil Association. For an overview of some of the options out there, as well as ideas on how to use them in the kitchen, turn to Page 2E
Make your choice based on use: drizzling, cooking or baking, frying
There are three main categories of olive oil, said Eryn Balch, executive vice president of the New Jersey-based North American Olive Oil Association.
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
The highest quality, it boasts a wide range of flavors, from smooth and subtle to peppery and pungent. The term “extra virgin” refers to oil obtained from the first pressing of olives. Those labeled “virgin” also come from the first press but are slightly more acidic. Color varies depending on what type of olives was used and whether a single variety or a blend of olives was used. Soil, climate and other factors also influence the color.
Among its numerous uses: drizzled straight out of the bottle to finish dishes, for dressings, marinades and for dipping bread. A finishing drizzle on pasta, for instance, can enhance the dish's taste, texture and aroma. Because of its low smoke point, it isn't recommended for cooking at high heat.
There are many different kinds of extra virgin olive oils. To help select which is best for a dish, consider complementary flavors. More intense-tasting varieties pair well with stronger ingredients such as red meat and hearty grains. Subtle, fruitier oils work well with delicate foods, including fish and vegetables.
“Consumers are learning that extra virgin olive oil is really a lot like wine. There's variety and there are different flavors depending where in the world it comes from,” Balch said.
Sometimes labeled “classic” or “pure,” this is a blend of refined olive oils and virgin oil. It has a milder flavor with just a hint of fruitiness. A good all-purpose cooking oil, it's suitable for a variety of cooking methods, including sautéing and baking. Its subtle flavor enhances dressings, marinades and sauces, and it's mild enough that it won't alter the flavor of cakes, brownies and other desserts.
LIGHT-TASTING OLIVE OIL
“Light” doesn't mean it's lower in fat and calories. It refers to a light flavor and color. Nearly flavorless, it brings the benefits of olive oil to recipes without altering the taste of a dish. Since it has a higher smoke point than other olive oils, it's ideal for frying and other high-heat cooking methods. It's also great for baking and produces light, moist baked goods when used as a substitute for vegetable oil, canola oil, butter or margarine.
A father and son (plus one) specialty shop
Longtime Omaha chefs Jim Trebbien and Mike Combs, along with Trebbien's son, Ben, own and operate Chef2 Oils, Vinegars & More. The Midtown Crossing shop carries about 18 different extra virgin olive oils, which are stored in large vats. Customers can taste the oils, select which they like, then have it bottled in a quantity of their choice.
Given the popularity of the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes heart-healthy olive oils, Combs said he isn't surprised by all the new specialty shops that have opened. Flavor, versatility and health benefits play a role in olive oil's appeal, he said.
Options at Chef2 include olive oils from Chile, Italy and California, as well as flavored varieties infused with sun-dried tomatoes, Meyer lemon and other ingredients. When using infused oils in dishes, think about flavors that go together, Combs said. Chocolate and orange, for instance, is a classic combination. When making brownies, he'll replace vegetable oil with blood orange olive oil.
A mother and daughter specialty shop
Linda Cummings and her daughter, Tish Rasmussen, opened Vine + Branch last May near 12th and Jackson Streets. Cummings said many customers are surprised by the number of olive oils. “A lot of people walk in the store and they're not sure of what to make of it,” she said. “The possibilities are pretty endless with what you can do with them.”
Some of her favorite ways to use flavored olive oils include sautéing Brussels sprouts or other vegetables in bacon olive oil, baking lemon cake with Meyer lemon olive oil, brushing salmon with blood orange olive oil before grilling and making scrambled eggs with citrus habanero olive oil instead of butter.
STORING OLIVE OIL
Limit exposure to heat, light and air, and olive oil can last for about two years in its original sealed bottle. Once opened, try to use it within three months. Store it in a cool, dark place like a cupboard or pantry. Avoid keeping it on top of a fridge, by a kitchen window or next to a stove. Close the cap securely when not in use. Continuous exposure to air can turn olive oil rancid, so don't leave a pour spout on the bottle if the opening can't be sealed.
WHERE TO BUY
Most supermarkets sell numerous types of olive oil, and there are several specialty shops throughout the metro area that carry premium olive oils, as well as balsamic vinegars and specialty oils like walnut, avocado and truffle.
» Chef2 Oils, Vinegars & More, Midtown Crossing, 3157 Farnam St., 402-991-5656, www.chefs2.com
» Old World Oil and Vinegar, Rockbrook Village, 10920 Prairie Brook Road, 402-968-7944, www.oldworldoil.com
» Oliverdé Omaha, Village Pointe Shopping Center, 17304 Davenport St., Suite 104, 402-502-5790, www.oliverdeoil.com
» Vine + Branch, 1125 Jackson St., 402-614-4048, www.fineoilsandvinegars.com
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Recipe: Minted Citrus Tea Cookies
• 1 2/3 cup flour
• ¾ teaspoon baking powder
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• 1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
• 1/3 cup granulated sugar
• ½ cup powdered sugar
• 1½ teaspoons grated lemon peel
• 1½ teaspoons grated lime peel
• 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint or 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary leaves
• ¼ cup extra light olive oil
• 1 egg
Mix flour, baking powder and salt in small mixing bowl; set aside. Cream butter, granulated sugar and powdered sugar, lemon and lime peels and mint in large mixing bowl. Blend in olive oil and egg. Stir in flour mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Preheat oven to 350 F.
Shape dough into ¾-inch balls; place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Dip tops in sugar; place on baking sheet, sugared side up. Flatten to 1/8-inch thickness with a fork or bottom of drinking glass dipped in granulated sugar. Bake 7 to 11 minutes, or until cookies appear set in center.
Carefully remove cookies from sheet immediately. Cool on wire rack.
Recipe; White Bean-Tomato Dip with Fried Corn Tortillas
For the dip:
• 1 (15-ounce) can white beans, such as Great Northern, drained and rinsed
• 1/3 cup packed cilantro or parsley leaves (not chopped)
• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 1½ tablespoons lime juice
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1 small tomato, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
• Salt and ground black pepper
For the fried tortillas:
• 2 cups pure olive oil
• 12 6-inch corn tortillas
Process beans, cilantro, oil, lime juice and garlic in a food processor or blender until mixture is smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl; stir in tomato and salt and pepper to taste.
Heat oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat to 370 F. Lay a whole tortilla into hot oil. Fry, turning once or twice, until it stops sizzling and turns golden brown, about 2 minutes. Remove with tongs or slotted spoon and set on a large wire rack set over a shallow pan, sprinkling with salt immediately. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
To serve, arrange whole fried tortillas in a basket, letting guests break off chips for dipping.
— Recipes courtesy of AboutOliveOil.org