It’s finally that time. Time for me to unveil the results of a few excited weeks of learning about olive oils of various intensity and brainstorming fun ways to use them, all while recovering from a nasty accident involving an immersion blender and an index finger (but I won’t go into that, except to say that I eventually became remarkably adept at nine-fingered typing, shampooing, and cooking). So when The Olive Press invited me to partake in their cooking competition (please vote HERE), I was incredibly thrilled about the opportunity to experiment with the Sonoma, California-based company’s award-winning oils. The Olive Press sent me four different bottles of their extra virgin olive oils – Arbequina, Mission, Italian Blend, and Blood Orange – and challenged me to create a four-course meal using one of the oils in each course. Drum roll please …
Appetizer: Roasted Tomato and Garlic, Kalamata Olive, and Feta Bruschetta, featuring the robust Italian Blend olive oil.
Any time there’s an excuse to do so, I love coming up with different versions of bruschetta. Yes, it’s a relatively simple appetizer, featuring just a handful of complementary, fresh ingredients that can easily be adapted to use whatever you have on hand. But when done right, each bite packs so much flavor and texture. And crunch. (There’s something infinitely more satisfying (to me) when a dish comes with a little bit of crunch, probably because I consistently deprive myself of those pre-made, boxed-up salty snacks that others inconsiderately munch on during my Commercial Contract Writing class.)
For this version of bruschetta, I went a Mediterranean route because the intense flavors of the roasted tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and feta stood up to and were well-complemented by the incredibly robust (dare I say spicy?) Italian Blend olive oil.
Main Course: Walnut-Crusted Halibut with Roasted Red Pepper Harissa, featuring Blood Orange olive oil.
This dish is near perfection. The halibut is enhanced but not overpowered by the relatively mild Blood Orange olive oil. Both the walnuts and the panko give the fish’s crust a nice crunchy texture, and the walnuts add a rich, buttery flavor while still keeping the dish healthy. The Blood Orange oil adds a subtle brightness to the smoky sweet-yet-spicy roasted red pepper harissa. With the fish placed atop the harissa, each bite yields a satisfying crunch complemented by the creaminess of the harissa.
Side Dish: Quinoa and Chickpea Salad with Roasted Asparagus and Red Bell Pepper, featuring the medium-intensity Mission olive oil.
Ohhhh man. This is yummy. AND healthy. It didn’t mean to be. Healthy, that is. But seriously … throw in a little feta on a cold night, and say hi to your new can’t-believe-I’ve-eaten-so-much-boxed-mac-and-cheese-when-this-was-out-there comfort food dinner. Here, however, I’ve made it a side dish. But this side dish is no wallflower. For those unfamiliar with quinoa, it’s light, fluffy, and mild-flavored like couscous, but has some nuttier undertones and is chock full of very-good-for-you nutrients that are lacking in couscous, rice and other similar foods. Add in some delicious roasted asparagus and red bell pepper (or your favorite roasted vegetables – Mission olive oil is excellent for roasting veggies), and you’ve got a super flavorful and healthful pilaf-y salad that gets even more delicious with the addition of chickpeas, which bring a nice texture and, upon biting, a fulfilling creaminess to the dish.
Dessert: Buttermilk Olive Oil Cake topped with Candied Ginger and Kumquats, featuring the delicate Arbequina olive oil.
Ever since discovering this quick and easy buttermilk cake recipe on Smitten Kitchen, I have been obsessed. The cake is so fluffy and light, and has the most amazing, slightly-crunchy sugary crust on top. After some creative tinkering (note: when it comes to baking, olive oil usually can’t just be substituted for equal amounts of butter without messing with the texture of the baked good; also, a delicate olive oil should be used unless you’re shooting for a super intense olive flavor), I was able to make my olive oil version come out just as light and fluffy as the original buttery recipe.
The fresh kumquats add a citrus twist to the cake, while the candied kumquats create a very pretty topping that also adds a more intense citrus flavor. But the real wow factor here is the chopped candied ginger (highly recommended, even if you abandon the admittedly expensive and hard-to-find kumquats for fresh berries or for another citrus fruit’s zest), which brings a slightly spicy zing to the sugary crust. This cake is so delicious, quick, and easy, and has been known to pull off a magic disappearing act. So make sure to set a piece aside for yourself double up and bake two of them, lest it disappears while you’re living up to your hostess duties by grabbing more wine from the kitchen.
Roasted Tomato and Garlic, Kalamata Olive, and Feta Bruschetta
Serves 2-4 as an appetizer
1 c. cherry or grape tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp. robust extra virgin olive oil (e.g., Italian Blend)
1/4 c. Kalamata olives
1 Tbsp. feta
1 tsp. tomato paste
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. thyme
salt and pepper to taste
French bread, sliced 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick in 3-inch by 2-inch rounds
Preheat oven to broil. In roasting pan, drizzle 1 Tbsp. olive oil over tomatoes and 1 garlic clove, stirring to coat. Sprinkle mixture with a pinch of salt and pepper. Roast for 6 to 8 minutes until tomato skin begins to tear. Remove from oven. In preparation for toasting bread, adjust oven temperature to 400°F.
Dice roasted garlic clove. In a small bowl, mix tomatoes, garlic, Kalamata olives, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, feta, and thyme. Add salt and pepper to taste, then let stand for 20 minutes to allow flavors to blend.
Meanwhile, drizzle 1 Tbsp. olive oil on bread slices. Toast bread on baking sheet for 5-8 minutes, until crisp and golden. Remove bread from oven. Immediately cut garlic clove in half, and rub garlic over surface of bread slices. Spoon tomato mixture over bread slices and devour!
Walnut-Crusted Halibut with Blood Orange-infused Roasted Red Pepper Harissa (adapted from Bon Appétit, July 2008 on Epicurious)
Serves 2, but recipe can easily be doubled or tripled
Notes: This dish can also be prepared (sans walnut crust) on a barbecue or grill pan heated to medium-high heat. Mahi-mahi may be substituted for halibut. If you have a lower tolerance for spicy foods, use fewer jalapeños in the harissa sauce; you can always kick it up a notch by adding cayenne pepper at the end of the blending process (though it doesn’t bring the same smokey, sweet-yet-spicy flavor as roasted jalapeños).
2 6-ounce halibut fillets
1/4 c. walnuts, toasted and very finely chopped
1/4 c. panko or unseasoned bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. (packed) Italian parsley, minced
2 large red bell peppers, halved lengthwise and seeded
3 red jalapeño chiles
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 Tbsp. plus 1/4 c. citrus-infused extra virgin olive oil, divided (e.g., Blood Orange)
2 tsp. ground cumin, divided
2 tsp. ground coriander, divided
2 tsp. salt, divided, plus more to taste
2 tsp. pepper, divided
lemon or orange wedges for garnish
Preheat oven to broil. Cover a roasting pan with foil, then place jalapeño, garlic, and red bell peppers on the pan. Brush both sides of veggies with 2 Tbsp. olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast veggies in oven until they are tender and charred, approximately 5 minutes per side for the garlic and jalapeño and 8 minutes per side for the bell peppers. Remove veggies from oven, transfer to a plate, and allow to cool slightly. Reduce oven heat to 450°F.
In small bowl, mix together walnuts, panko, parsley, 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. coriander, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper. Brush both sides of fish with oil. Roll both sides of fish in walnut mixture, pressing mixture onto fish so that it covers fish evenly. Place fish on lightly oiled baking sheet, and roast until just cooked through, approximately 8 to 10 minutes. Turn oven to broil, and continue to cook for 40 seconds for a crispier crust, watching closely so it does not burn. Transfer fish to plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
While fish is cooking, peel charred parts of skin from bell peppers and cut stem from jalapeño, discarding the peel and stem. Transfer to food processor, and add garlic clove, remaining 1/4 c. olive oil, 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. coriander, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper to blender. Process until coarse puree forms. If necessary, add more salt to taste.
To serve, spoon about 1/4 to 1/2 c. harissa over two plates, then place 1 fish fillet on each plate, on top of the harissa. Garnish with lemon wedges. Refrigerate leftover harissa for another use.
Quinoa and Chickpea Salad with Roasted Asparagus and Red Bell Pepper
Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a side course
Notes: Quinoa has a mild, barely nutty flavor, is full of nutrients (complete proteins, fiber, and tons more) and has a fluffy texture similar to couscous. Couscous or rice can be substituted for quinoa, but that’ll knock down the nutritional value a few notches. Any other roasted or fresh veggies can be substituted for those used here, as long as their flavors go together well. Might even try throwing in some feta or goat cheese (Hi, my name is Kristen, and I’m a cheese-aholic.)
15 oz. canned unsalted chickpeas or 1 1/2 c. cooked dried chickpeas, drained
juice of 1/2 blood orange
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 c. quinoa, uncooked
1 c. red onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 c. low-sodium chicken broth (or water)
1 1/2 c. asparagus, tough ends removed
1 c. roasted red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 c. fresh parsley, minced
5 Tbsp. medium intensity extra virgin olive oil (e.g., Mission)
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
Preheat oven to 450°F. Combine chickpeas, blood orange juice, lemon juice, and 3 Tbsp. oil in large bowl. Stir, then set aside.
In medium pot over medium heat, saute onions in 2 Tbsp. oil for 6 minutes. Add garlic and cumin, and cook for 2 more minutes. Add quinoa, and toast for 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, decrease heat to low, and cover. Stirring occasionally, cook until quinoa has absorbed all the liquid, approximately 15 minutes.
While quinoa is cooking, place asparagus on baking sheet, brush with 1 Tbsp. oil, and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt. Roast asparagus in the oven for about 9 minutes (may need to reduce or increase cooking time by 1-2 minutes, depending on thickness of asparagus spears). Remove, cut into 1-inch pieces, and set aside.
Spoon cooked quinoa into bowl with chickpea mixture. Add asparagus, roasted red bell peppers, and parsley. Add salt to taste. I served it warm, but you can also serve it chilled or at room temperature.
Buttermilk Olive Oil Cake topped with Candied Ginger and Kumquats (inspired by Smitten Kitchen)
Notes: This cake is also delicious made with fruits other than candied kumquats, including thin blood orange slices or scattered berries of any kind.
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. delicate, fruity extra virgin olive oil (e.g., Arbequina)
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 eggs, room temperature
1 c. plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar, divided
2 Tbsp. kumquats, quartered, thinly sliced and seeds removed
1/4 c. candied ginger
1/2 c. candied kumquats
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and then flour a 9-inch cake pan.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Stir, and set aside.
In a small bowl (or even a measuring cup), mix olive oil and buttermilk together, and then set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat eggs until quite frothy, about 4 minutes. Add 1 c. sugar and 2 Tbsp. chopped kumquats, and beat until well-blended, about 1 minute. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined (i.e., minimize number of strokes used). Pour batter into cake pan, smoothing the top. Scatter candied kumquats and candied ginger on top of cake (don’t push them down; they’ll sink a little on their own while baking, and the cake looks prettier with the decorative fruit topping!), and sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar.
Bake until cake is golden and pick inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, and then invert onto plate and then again onto rack (so topping is face up) and cool completely. Option to drizzle 1 Tbsp. syrup leftover from candied ginger over the slice of cake before serving for some extra zing.