Olive oil is extremely versatile but home cooks should choose one with a flavour profile that will complement the dish being prepared, says Christine Cushing.
The chef, who is originally from Greece, says olive oil is used frequently in Mediterranean countries in baking.
"The extra-virgin has the pepperiness and that freshness and that really beautiful aroma that can go well in baking," says Cushing.
"People make citrus cakes. I've made brownies, chocolate madeleines, sponge cakes. It's absolutely amazing in a sponge cake instead of butter."
In a salad dressing, mix in an olive oil that will go with the lettuce being served.
"If you're using a bitter lettuce, something like radicchio or escarole which is a bit bolder, you can go with a bolder olive oil to complement that," says Cushing. "If on the other hand you're doing something that's a butter lettuce, which is really sweet and delicate, if you use that kind of oil it's really going to be overpowering. It's going to take over that lettuce."
Here are three recipes developed by Cushing featuring olive oil:
GEMELLI WITH CHORIZO AND BABY KALE
This homey pasta dish is a full meal in a bowl. You can swap in any greens you have on hand for those suggested. Cushing saves half the olive oil to pour over top of the finished dish for a fresh burst of flavour.
1 pkg (500 g) gemelli pasta or any penne
50 ml (1/4 cup) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 raw spicy chorizo sausages, casing removed, crumbled
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
50 ml (1/4 cup) vermouth
250 ml (1 cup) chicken stock
500 ml (2 cups) halved grape tomatoes
250 ml (1 cup) baby kale
Handful fresh parsley
50 ml (1/4 cup) freshly grated Parmesan, or to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil and cook pasta according to package directions for al dente, 6 to 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 15 ml (1 tbsp) of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sausages and cook until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add onion and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic; saute until softened, about another 1 minute. Add vermouth to deglaze skillet. Add chicken stock and let reduce by half. Add tomatoes; cook for 1 minute, just to soften. Remove from heat.
Drain pasta and add directly to sauce. Return to heat for a further minute so it absorbs some sauce. Add baby kale and parsley. Sprinkle with Parmesan and drizzle with remaining olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
CITRUS OLIVE OIL DRESSING
Citrus juices and olive oil are the perfect marriage. This is a very versatile dressing, but Cushing likes to pour it over a combination of greens including radicchio for extra punch.
30 ml (2 tbsp) fresh lemon juice
30 ml (2 tbsp) fresh orange juice
Grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon
5 ml (1 tsp) Dijon mustard
2 ml (1/2 tsp) vin cotto or balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
75 ml (1/3 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
In a medium mason jar, combine citrus juices and zests, mustard, vin cotto, salt and pepper and shake well. Pour in olive oil and shake until blended. Store in the fridge until ready to dress your favourite salad.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
SEMOLINA SPONGE CAKE
This recipe makes a light and fluffy cake with a slight crunch of semolina and a garnish of pistachios. It's the perfect base for any layered cream cake or it can be served on its own with whipped cream and fruit.
Use a good-quality extra-virgin olive oil.
6 eggs, separated, room temperature
90 ml (1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp) sugar, divided
90 ml (1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp) fine semolina
2 ml (1/2 tsp) pure vanilla extract
2 ml (1/2 tsp) ground anise
50 ml (1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
50 ml (1/4 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
50 ml (1/4 cup) Greek honey
50 ml (1/4 cup) water
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
30 ml (2 tbsp) lemon juice
15 ml (1 tbsp) Metaxa brandy (optional)
75 ml (1/3 cup) ground pistachios, for garnish
Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F). Butter and flour a 33-by-23-cm (13-by-9-inch) rectangular pan.
In a large stainless-steel bowl, whip egg yolks with half the sugar on high until pale and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Beat in vanilla and anise.
In another clean, dry bowl with whip attachment, beat egg whites with remaining sugar until soft peaks hold, 4 to 5 minutes.
Fold whites and yolks together gently. Then fold in semolina and flour quickly but gently. Lastly fold in olive oil until well blended. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake until tester comes out dry from middle of cake and centre is golden, 25 to 35 minutes. Remove cake from oven and let cool in pan for at least 30 minutes, or until knife will cut through without sticking, before adding syrup.
Make syrup while cake is baking. In a medium saucepan, combine honey, water, cinnamon stick, cloves and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to low heat and simmer just to thicken slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add brandy if using, and let cool.
Cut cake into 12 squares or diamond pieces while still in pan. Pour cooled syrup onto warm cake. Sprinkle with ground pistachios and let stand for at least 15 minutes before removing slices from pan. Use cake lifter to remove pieces of cake from pan.
Makes 12 servings.
Source: Chef Christine Cushing.