By Lori Bosworth
Torontonicity was invited to an event celebrating EVOO at Toronto’s Brassaii Restaurant on Thursday, September 18, 2014. Food anthropologist and food journalist Robert Beauchemin was on hand to share his expert knowledge about extra virgin olive oil with guests as part of the Flavor Your Life Campaign sponsored by the European Trade Commission. Food writer Mary Luz Mejia moderated the event. Guests also sampled appetizers and desserts made with EVOO and prepared by Executive Chef Marcus Monteiro of Brassaii.
I did not know much about extra virgin olive oil, but found out that there are four types of olive oil: pure, virgin, organic and extra virgin. Extra Virgin Olive Oil has the highest nutritional value while Pure Olive Oil has low nutritional value.
Other interesting facts about olive oil included:
- Italy is the largest supplier of olive oil to the U.S.;
- Blended oil could mean that the olive oil is a combination of olive oils from different countries OR the olive oil is a combination of olive oil and other oils;
- EVOO is always cold-pressed, since heat alters the flavour of oil;
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil is often mixed with other oils such as Safflower or Soya Oil even if the bottle says it’s 100% EVOO;
- The less ripe the olive is, the better it is for olive oil. A strong, bitter, fresh, pungent taste is the mark of a young olive oil, which is desirable;
- EVOO must contain no more than .08% acidity.
How do you determine if your EVOO is authentic?
Look for the blue and yellow seal on the bottle that indicates DOP approval. This is an Italian government certification that the EVOO has been pressed, bottled and shipped out of Italy. Why is this important? Many extra virgin olive oils may be shipped out of Italy, but they may be made from extra virgin olive oils from Spain and Morocco.
When asked which was his favourite EVOO, Beauchemin responded that he preferred the Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the Puglia Region in Italy “because it is pungent.” He also recommended Planeta Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Valle del Belice in Sicily.
After Beauchemin’s talk, we got to sample some of Brassaii’s Executive Chef’s Marcus Monteiro’s hors d’oeuvres and desserts made from Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Executive Chef Monteiro makes this special cheese in-house, which tasted fabulous on top of cucumber slices. The delectable cheese has the consistency of sour cream.
These canapes made with olive oil enhanced the flavour of ripe tomatoes.
You can use EVOO to make desserts including Chef Monteiro’s Almond Coconut Brownies that had a satisfyingly rich chocolate flavour without being too sweet and Orange Scented Olive Oil Pound Cake, which would be a lovely accompaniment with afternoon tea.
I’m sharing Executive Chef Marcus Monteiro’s Israeli Couscous Recipe below because, although this dish looks deceptively plain, the ingredients melded together in a wonderful fusion of flavours. Wouldn’t this be a great addition to Thanksgiving dinner?
MARCUS MONTEIRO’S SRAELI COUSCOUS PILAF with APRICOTS RECIPE
Prep time – 15 minutes; Cook time – 15 minutes
Makes 4 servings (about 1 cup each)
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1-1/2 cups Israeli couscous
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 scallions, finely sliced (about 1/3 cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. za’atar* spice blend
1 tsp. crushed, dried mint
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, heated to boiling
½ cup finely chopped, dried apricots
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp. Pignoli (pine) nuts, toasted
1) Heat olive oil in a large skillet, over medium-high heat. Add couscous. Cook, stirring occasionally, until couscous is lightly toasted, about 3 minutes. Stir in cumin, scallions, garlic, za’atar and mint. Cook, while stirring, 1 minute longer to lightly “roast” the spices.
2) Slowly stir in chicken broth and apricots; return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 to 12 minutes or until the liquid has evaporated. Fluff with fork.
3) Season with salt and pepper; stir in pine nuts. Garnish with an extra sprinkle of thinly sliced scallions and/or a sprig of fresh mint, if desired.
*Za’atar is a blend of spices (typically including dried sumac, sesame seeds, thyme and salt) often used in Middle Eastern cuisine. Za’atar is available in gourmet stores, Middle Eastern markets and on-line (penzeys.com). *To toast the Pignoli (pine) nuts, preheat the oven to 350F. Spread pine nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, 8 -10 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely before using.