So I fell for it. The Olive Press, in Sonoma and Napa, challenged food writers to use four of its extra virgin olive oils in a four-course meal, and there it went: my competitive inner child reared its head. We’re taking this all the way to the end zone. (Sorry, is my football hem showing? Growing up in the Midwest reduces everyday activities to sports clichés, like “That’s gonna leave a mark” and “I’ll have a Leinenkugel’s.”)
So in deciding which olive oil to use with which recipe, I needed to taste them first. That’s right: no bread, no salad. Straight sippin’. As discussed on Let There Be Bite, extra virgin olive oil is generally put into three categories: delicate, medium, and robust “fruit,” or flavor, which is a result of the type of olives that are used. The Olive Press sent out four types: Arbequina (delicate), Mission (medium), Italian Blend (robust), and–curve ball! (see what I mean?)–Blood Orange (delicate), made with certified organic blood oranges.
The Arbequina was in fact subtle, yet had a lingering pungency.
The Mission had some green apple notes.
The Italian Blend wasn’t here to make friends. It was fruit-forward and peppery.
The Blood Orange had a nice aroma, and a friendly dessert came to mind to make them all get along and play nice.
Next, I was off to my local farmer’s market, the famed Chino’s Vegetable Shop in San Diego, to see what was seasonal. Last time I was there someone said, “You’re the Bite Lady, right?” I should have thought that name through a bit more.
I found fennel and remembered the fennel and apple salad I had at SPQR restaurant in San Francisco the week before. First course decided. The Mission olive oil would work well here, lending a profound olive flavor without overpowering; and the apple flavors would marry nicely.
I had just seen a recipe for blood orange olive oil cake (writers have been abuzz about baking with olive oil recently), and I was curious. On the way home, I “borrowed” some blood oranges from my friend Cliff’s backyard–praise Buddha for friends with gardens. My thumb is so not green. (He is also one of my favorite friends because he makes limoncello from scratch!) Dessert course using blood orange olive oil: check.
What’s left? The delicate Arbequina and the pungent Italian Blend. After living in Italy for three years, my knees still go weak at the thought of a good pasta, and I remembered the pesto alla trapanese that my friend had at 54 Mint on that same trip to San Francisco. It intrigued me because it was a southern Italian interpretation of the typical Ligurian basil pesto and would serve as a nice transition from the fennel to the entrée.
As for the entrée, delicate olive oils like Arbequina go very well with light, flaky fish. I would go to my favorite local fish store, El Pescador in La Jolla, and see what was fresh. With the gaggle of surfer types who work there, I am always entertained by the tip jar that reads: “La Jolla girls are expensive.”
Okay, all players were on the field. Next: Into the kitchen!
First course: Fennel, Apple, and Grapefruit Salad — The Olive Press Mission EVOO (medium)
Second course: Pesto alla Trapanese — The Olive Press Italian Blend EVOO (robust)
Third course: Baked White Sea Bass with Chive Breadcrumbs — The Olive Press Arbequina EVOO (delicate)
Fourth course: Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake — The Olive Press Blood Orange EVOO (delicate)