ExperiencePlus! tour leader Yorgos Paraskevopoulos is from Kalamata, Greece and has been leading tours with us since 1999. He lives in Kalamata, Greece where he harvests and cares for his family’s olive trees. This month he offers suggestions on ways of adding flavors to your olive oil. (You might also enjoy his story about unripe or agoureleo oil from a previous Rambler).
You can easily add (even more) flavor to your olive oil by storing foods in it. There are several products that are either sold in brine (capers, olives, pickled veggies) and others that are typically preserved in sunflower or vegetable oil (anchovies and smoked or cured meats) that can easily enrich your olive oil with a more complex flavor. Try draining your jar of capers from all that brine, and fill the jar with olive oil. You will not only preserve your capers, but you can use that caper-flavored oil in some of your recipes, sauces or dressings. Another example is any preserved fish (anchovies for instance), which are usually sold in oils that are typically discarded once you have consumed the product. Instead, try draining the oil and add the equivalent amount of olive oil. Not only will your fish product taste better, but after a few days you can use that olive oil to add flavor to your favorite paella, risotto, or pasta.
You can use the same technique with fresh produce (garlic), sun-dried items (tomatoes, chili peppers or chili flakes), grilled or roasted vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms), even cheese.
For a quick meal, boil some pasta, drain it, and add 4-5 tablespoons of your anchovy-flavored olive oil, mix well and enjoy. And if you’ve added a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, some parsley or chili flakes into your olive-oil-preserved fish, you will give your guests the impression that you worked hours to prepare that dish!
Once you make a habit of flavoring your olive oil, the options are limitless. We like keeping small containers of “garlic olive oil”, “sun-dried tomatoes and caper oil”, and “anchovy and chili flake oil” for our favorite dishes. And when we buy feta, we cut some of it up in cubes, add plenty of oregano, and preserve it in olive oil (in the fridge) for several weeks. You give your cheese a time extension, plus that oil never goes to waste.
Olive Oil with Capers and Chili Peppers
1 jar best-quality capers in salt or brine, not in vinegar
2-3 fresh hot chili peppers
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
Rinse the capers in running water and drain well. Chop 2 tablespoons of the capers and place them in a clean and dry 2-cup bottle. Add the remaining capers and the chili peppers and fill the bottle with olive oil. Cover and keep in a cool, dark place for a week, shaking from time to time, before using.
Olive Oil with Capers and Chili Pepper will keep for 3-4 months in a cool, dark place.
Note: The secret of making an excellent flavored olive oil is starting with the best and freshest produce, the most aromatic herbs and good quality extra-virgin olive oil. Always clean your jars and utensils before use. Also, it is wise to consume all the foods and oil within a few weeks, so make small quantities, then make some more with a new twist. Meats, fish, and cheese should be kept refrigerated. Don’t worry if your refrigerated oil has solidified and is cloudy. Once you scoop some out of the jar, and leave it at room temperature for a few minutes it will go back to its original form. And make sure you fill your jar with more oil, every time you use some, so that foods are safely covered.