We hope you enjoyed our 3-part video series on local, organic, and sustainable food in San Diego! Now for something a little different: a cooking segment that shows you how to make one of my favorite dishes, classic Ligurian pesto.
Ridge Evers is perturbed. The founder of California’s DaVero olive oil is tired of the argument that “extra virgin olive oil” is the only olive oil that matters. “If you think high-end chefs are using extra virgin olive oil when they cook, you’re wrong,” says Evers. “Even Mario Batali?,” I ask, who is a good friend of Evers and has promoted DaVero olive oil in the past. Evers: “Oh, definitely.”
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.”)
This course was inspired by a recent visit to San Francisco’s SPQR restaurant.
I chose the Olive Press Mission extra virgin olive oil (medium fruit) because it lends
a substantial olive flavor without overpowering the delicate fennel; and the apple undertone in the oil marries nicely with the apple slices in the salad.
First of all, what is pesto alla trapanese? The word “trapanese” means “of Trapani,”
a town on the northwest coast of Sicily. Most people are familiar with the typical Ligurian pesto: lots of basil, olive oil, parmigiano reggiano, pine nuts, and garlic. Historically, Genovese (Ligurian) ships would stop in Trapani on their way to and from the Far East. They brought pesto, and Sicilians altered the recipe by using local ingredients, namely tomatoes and almonds. Although there is basil in the trapanese recipe, it is more a supporting character than the star, and the dish has
a subtle and satisfying appeal.
Delicate olive oils, like Arbequina, go very well with fish. In choosing the ingredients to complement the fish, I wanted to avoid using overpowering flavors that would drown out the oil. And since we were having four courses, I also wanted to do something light and simple for this course. I called ahead to my local fish market,
El Pescador in La Jolla, and asked what good white fish they were carrying: he recommended white sea bass from Mexico. I checked the Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch to make sure it was a good choice. It was a go!
Everyone seems to be talking about using olive oil instead of butter in baked goods these days, so I thought I’d go for it with the delicate Olive Press Blood Orange extra virgin olive oil. The cake has a nice crust while the inside stays moist for days. I may be an EVOO baking convert!
This LTBB blog post originally appeared on the cooking blog, Fare La Scarpetta.
So now that you’ve worked up the courage to get in the kitchen again, what are you going to make? I’ll let you in on a secret: if you buy good ingredients, half the work is done for you. Think about it: If you buy fresh, perky asparagus rather than tired, floppy ones, it will taste better even if you do nothing but steam them. One chicken broth brand is watery and tasteless; another is full-flavored and complex. Which would you rather have as a base for your soup?…