July Cookbook Review: The Flavors of Olive Oil

By Sarah Strauss

I have forgotten to bring post-its or even a pen, so my fingers have fanned out to mark the pages of the book in my hand.  I’m standing in front of the olive oil section of our grocery store, clutching my copy of Deborah Krasner’s cookbook and olive oil tasting guide, The Flavors of Olive Oil.  I’ve told the curious store employee that I actually don’t need help at all, I just want to see what this book says about each of the olive oils on the shelves in front of me.  The dark bottles gleam and shine in the overhead florescent lighting of the store, and I remember what I have just read about the proper care of olive oils – storing them away from heat and light, even if that means wrapping a clear bottle in foil, and keeping the lids on tight.

Once home, I line up my purchases on the counter in the four groups defined in the book, delicate and mild, fruity and fragrant, olive-y and peppery, green and grassy.  Following the instructions for conducting a tasting, I decant a little bit of each one and sample them in shot glasses, warmed in the palm of my hand.

This was how I began my voyage through the world of olive oil using Deborah Krasner’s highly organized and thoughtful book as a guide.  More than a cookbook, The Flavors of Olive Oil provides a history of olive oil, a description of the harvesting and processing, as well as detailed tasting notes on almost every extra virgin olive oil on the market.  The recipes are delicious, it’s true, but they are not all this book has to offer.

Starting off with mouth watering appetizers, such as the luscious Watermelon, Feta and Lime Parfait, or the heartier Potato Galette, it is clear to me from the start that this book will become a trusted resource in our kitchen.

The realm of the salad is where I think of olive oil primarily, and without fail, there are several simple dressings on offer, including a Basic Vinaigrette Made Three Ways, as well as other heartier salads that could be meals all by themselves with the addition of savory proteins or toothsome grains.

In the soup section, we made the Chickpea Soup with Cavolo Nero, a thick and warmly satisfying bowl that kept a dreary rainy evening at bay.  This soup ages well, and the next night it was even better than the first.

George Washington’s Challah, yielded two large golden braided loaves studded with dried cherries.  We reluctantly gave a loaf away to friends, and look forward to making this loaf again, maybe as Krasner suggests, with dried cranberries for Thanksgiving.  Our leftovers also made a mean French toast.

Lemon Thyme Roast Chicken with Caramelized Roasted Vegetables was consumed so quickly that there were no leftovers to speak of.  The same fate befell the Flash Roasted Salmon with Saba, and the Fusilli with Red Onion, Parsley, Tuna, Capers and Mozzarella.  The Marinated Chicken Breast on a Bed of Mesclun and Tomatoes was meltingly tender and will be reappearing on our menu soon.  The Charcoal Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb, Turkish Style along with the Grilled Side Vegetables graced the center of our table last week, now that the grilling season has finally started.

At the end of our explorations, we came at last to the Lemon Almond Polenta Torta with Beaten Ricotta Cream, a favorite cake, not too sweet, not too heavy, just right for a party with gluten-free friends.

Looking now, at the shelf in my own kitchen, I smile at my ranks of dark-glassed, foil-wrapped oils and wonder where we will travel next.

“The Flavors of Olive Oil” by Deborah Krasner.  Illustrations by Elizabeth Krasner.  Photographs by Ann Stratton.  Published by Simon & Schuster, 2002.  226 pages.

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