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Get to know the olive oil family
Its members range from high class to everyday, but they all have a place of honor in kitchens.
By Carole Kotkin, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers
Published March 12, 2008
People around the world have enjoyed olive oil's rich flavor and aroma for at least 6,000 years.
Today, dozens of brands are on supermarket shelves, and consumers are becoming as choosy about their olive oil as they are about fine wines.
Indeed, olive oil tastings have taken on the nature of wine tastings, using the same terminology to describe aroma (mild, mellow, fruity), taste (nutty, zesty, peppery, sweet, rich, buttery, assertive) and appearance (clear, cloudy, green, amber).
Unlike wine, olive oil does not improve with age. A closed bottle kept in a cool, dark place should remain in good condition for one to two years.
Here's a key to various grades,starting with the best:
Extra-virgin: The oil's acidity level must be under 1 percent. The best comes from the first cold pressing of the olives, without any refining. Taste and acidity vary with the trees, soil, growing and harvesting methods and pressing techniques.
Unfiltered extra-virgin is preferred by some for its more robust flavor. Less expensive extra-virgin olive oil can be used to saute; save the pricier stuff for drizzling.
Virgin: If the oil's acidity is between 1 and 3 percent, it is "virgin," with a slightly sharper taste.
Little of this kind is sold in the United States.
Pure: Oil with an acidity level greater than 3 percent must be processed further with chemicals and bleaching clay, then mixed with virgin oil to produce "pure" oil.
Light: Despite its name, this has the same amount of fat and calories as other olive oils; the only difference is in the taste, or lack of it.
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Tomato Bread Soup (Pappa col Pomodoro)
1 pound loaf country-style bread
3 pounds Roma tomatoes (or two 28-ounce cans plum tomatoes, drained)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 small sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Vegetable stock, water or tomato liquid
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
Fresh basil leaves
- Remove and discard bread crusts. Cut bread into 2-inch chunks, spread on a baking sheet and toast lightly in a 200-degree oven. Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in large saucepan over medium-low. Cook onion and garlic until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, raise heat to medium and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, until pieces break up. Add 1 to 2 cups stock, stir in bread and simmer another minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Ladle soup into warm bowls. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with cheese and basil. Pass more cheese at the table.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Nutritional information per serving: 347 calories (37 percent from fat), 14g fat (4g saturated, 6.5g monounsaturated), 13mg cholesterol, 13g protein, 43g carbohydrates, 4g fiber, 539mg sodium.
Adapted from Soup's On! by Leslie Jonath and Frankie Frankeny (Chronicle, $19.95)