My first olive oil tasting experience was in Napa. It was, I now realize, an attempt by my best friend to stuff me with so much fat that I'd make it through at least two wine tastings without turning into a slurring falling all over myself mess.
(Fine. One and a half. I'm a lightweight and we all know it.)
I mean...I suppose it was a little suspicious when she kept pouring those little bowls of olive oil down my throat and ordering me to chug. But I just thought she was trying to appeal to my foodie interests! That's what best friends are for, right?
It wasn't until a few weeks ago when Carapelli sent me some of their Premium 100% Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil that I realized...we were doing it all wrong.
There is an art to olive oil tasting. And, shockingly, "chugging" is not involved.
Rather, there are the "Four S's" - swirling, sniffing, slurping, and swallowing. And they each have their own highly scientific purpose. Which, being the scientific-minded kind of gal that I am...I kind of love.
Swirling releases the oil's esters, which are the molecules in the olive oil that bind to your smell receptors in your nose and create that luscious olive oil-y scent. Sniffing tells you just how fruity the oil is, either more on the intense vs. subtle side of the spectrum. Slurping, or sipping the oil while "sipping" in a bit of air as well, helps to emulsify the oil and spread it throughout your mouth. This is where you take note of the various tastes and sensations - fruity, peppery, smooth, etc. And last, but not least, swallowing. After you swallow, take note of any aftertaste, either a lingering peppery flavor or any stinging sensation.
So, armed with a bottle of Carapelli's Premium 100% Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I decided to take it upon myself to olive oil taste. But right this time.
I swirled. I sniffed. I slurped. And I swallowed.
It was lovely. The olive oil itself had a very strong olive-y scent, which I am always inclined to believe leads to a very strong olive-y taste. It was very smooth in my mouth and left a bit of a peppery aftertaste, which I likened to a hint of raw garlic. I find garlic to be the ultimate comfort food, so that was totally fine by me!
Carapelli also has two other flavors - Il Numerato, which is more of a low acidity oil, and an Organic olive oil which complies with USDA organic standards that I can't wait to try! Thankfully, we all can try them thanks to this $1.00 OFF coupon at www.CarapelliUSA.com!
When you have a really strong, rich-tasting oil like this, you really ought to use it in a way that lets it shine.
One of my favorites? Pesto.
What I love about pesto is that it is made up of a few simple ingredients - an herb (usually basil), a nut, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan cheese - yet still tastes amazing. However, because there are so few ingredients, it is that much more important that they are the best quality you can find. Otherwise...it will just taste blah. And nothing is sadder than "blah" pesto, that's for sure.
Since basil isn't exactly in season anymore, I thought it would be best to make my pesto from an herb that is more autumn-appropriate.
Sage, which goes fabulously with most of the vegetables in season at the moment, especially my two favorites - winter squash and brussels sprouts, was my herb of choice. Paired with some walnuts and the Carapelli olive oil, this pesto just...worked. The woodsy flavor of the sage meshed beautiful with the super sweet roasted winter squash and the caramelized brussels sprouts, with the fruity olive oil tying it all together. Throw some blue cheese on top, and you have yourself a beautiful meal, replete with all the flavors of fall.
In fact, I ate so much of it that I might have been able to undertake three wine tastings without even the slightest hint of a slur. And that's saying something.
Pasta with Sage-Walnut Pesto, Winter Squash and Brussels Sprouts
Serves 4, an Eats Well With Others Original
- 1 medium kabocha squash or other winter squash, seeded and diced into bite sized chunks
- 1 lb brussels sprouts, halved
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup sage
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp chopped walnuts
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- salt, to taste
- 1/2 lb pasta
- 4 oz gorgonzola, crumbles
- Heat oven to 450. Arrange winter squash chunks and brussels sprouts on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper (only one vegetable on each, since they have different cooking times). Spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt. Roast brussels sprouts for 20-25 minutes and winter squash for 40 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and set aside.
- Set up a pot of salted water to boil.
- While the water is heating, make the sage-walnut pesto. Combine the olive oil, sage, garlic, walnuts, and parmesan cheese in a food processor. Pulse until pureed, adding some water if necessary to loosen it up a bit.
- Cook the pasta until al dente and then strain, reserving about 1/2 cup pasta water. In a large bowl, mix the pasta, brussels sprouts, and winter squash. Add the pesto and mix, adding reserved pasta sauce as necessary until thoroughly combined. Taste for seasoning.
- Place pasta in four serving bowls and top each with crumbled gorgonzola.