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Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil Hardcover – February 10, 2015
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From the Publisher
Marinated Feta and Tomato Salad from Virgin Territory
Feta is best for this treatment because its rough texture readily absorbs flavors from the marinade. It’s often quite salty, so don’t add any salt at all until you've tasted the final product. Other cheeses to consider are ricotta salata from southern Italy, a firm-textured chèvre from Provence, or Montenebro from Catalonia, in Spain. Crack the peppercorns in a mortar if you have one; otherwise, put them in a paper bag, set the bag on a bread board or wooden counter, and pound them gently with a rolling pin. The idea is to have roughly cracked but not crushed or ground peppercorns.
Makes 4 servings
Break the cheese into small, irregular clumps if you can; otherwise, dice it not more than 1 inch to a side. Add the cheese pieces to a mason jar large enough to hold the cheese with the marinade. Combine in a small bowl the oil, vinegar, crumbled chile, green herbs, and pepper- corns. Pour this mixture over the cheese in the jar, cover, and set aside in a cool place (not the refrigerator) for several hours or overnight.
When ready to serve, taste the cheese mix and adjust the seasoning, adding salt if it seems necessary.
Halve the little tomatoes and toss them in a salad bowl with the onion slivers. Pour the cheese and its marinade over the top. Bring the bowl to the table and toss just before serving.
- ¼ pound Greek barrel-aged feta cheese (1/2 to 2/3 cup when broken up, as in the recipe)
- 1/3 cup olive oil, preferably very fruity Greek oil from Kalamata olives
- 1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 small dried red chile pepper, seeded and crumbled
- Handful of coarsely chopped fresh basil, cilantro, or dill
- 1 tablespoon coarsely cracked black peppercorns
- Sea salt (optional)
- 1 pound small ripe tomatoes (cherry, grape, or currant)
- 1 small red onion, halved and very thinly sliced
— Amanda Hesser, co-founder of Food52.com and author of The Essential New York Times Cookbook
“Virgin Territory is so essential because its subject is so well-colonized. Equal parts cookbook, autobiography, and culinary history, it's a compelling education in cooking's most essential oil.”
— Dan Barber, chef and co-owner, Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns
"This is the tasty and nutritious food for thought which olive oil enthusiasts have been hungering for. Jenkins draws on decades of experience in the Mediterranean to tell the people and places, the beauty and the uses of great oil – and the practicalities of choosing and using it. An invaluable guide to a luminous yet often murky world."
— Tom Mueller, author of the best-selling Extra Virginity
“Virgin Territory takes a deep dive into the history, culture, and taste of olive oil. Jenkins grows olives, harvests them, and cooks with her own oil. A terrific cook, she passionately wants everyone to know the difference a high quality extra-virgin olive oil can make to any dish. I learned so much about olive oil from this book and can’t wait to try every one of her recipes.”
— Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University and author of What to Eat
“I love this book! Nancy explains olive oil well, writing from vast and personal experience. She pokes holes in our cherished myths and is well qualified to do so, and of course, her recipes are always good to cook. Virgin Territory is smart, fun to read, and relevant--thank you Nancy, once again, for such good work.”
— Deborah Madison, author of Vegetable Literacy and The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
“Studying olive oil with Nancy Harmon Jenkins has profoundly influenced my cooking. I recommend her book to any food lover, professional or otherwise--Nancy's lessons and recipes will make anyone a better and healthier cook.”
— Anita Lo, chef/owner, Annisa
“Olive oil may be the most important food in the Western cooking, and Nancy Jenkins is a rare expert. No one brings more love and knowledge to the subject with all its fascination and complexity. She is one of our finest writers, and she happens to be a talented cook.”
— Ed Behr, editor and publisher of The Art of Eating
“In Virgin Territory Nancy Harmon Jenkins tells us about several of her “Olive Oil Gurus.” Well, Nancy is now my olive oil guru. This is an eloquent book that has the bonus of also being a bit of a memoir as well as a cookbook filled with beloved, mostly Mediterranean, recipes. It will help us understand everything we didn’t know, or thought we knew but really didn’t, or that we might have thought was complicated about olive oil. Nancy tells us just what we need to know in the most understandable, forthright and personable fashion.”
— Martha Rose Shulman, recipes for Health on nytimes.com and author, most recently, of The Simple Art of Vegetarian Cooking
"Nancy Harmon Jenkins takes a deep look at the complexities of a key component in Mediterranean cooking—extra-virgin olive oil--and draws on her years of experience to tell us what it’s all about, why some is good, some is bad, how to know the difference, and, most importantly, with lots of appealing recipes, how to use this healthy ingredient in our kitchens and on our tables."
— Paula Wolfert, author of The Food of Morocco and many other books
“Nancy Harmon Jenkins is the leading American authority on olive oil. No doubt about it. She has been studying, writing, lecturing and guiding tours about olive oil for nearly 40 years. She even makes her own extra-virgin from the trees on her property in Tuscany. She, above all, knows that knowledgeable consumers are the key to more, better, genuine extra-virgin olive oil for us all. Virgin Territory is a much-needed, thorough and easy-reading education, from the sensory to the science. Plus olive-oil centric recipes! I couldn’t ask for more.”
— Arthur Schwartz, author of Naples At Table and The Southern Italian Table
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2. Do judge by the price tag. Like the best wine, the best extra-virgin costs a lot. That’s because it is hand-harvested, pressed within hours of picking and milled locally, if not actually on the estate where the olives grow.
3. Be a label snob. Right there on the bottle it should state where the olives were grown, and possibly which varieties were used and where and when the oil was made. It may even give the free oleic acid content, a measure of rancidity, at the time of pressing. Producers of the best oil would never put a product on the market with a grade over 0.3%, and many find even that figure too high. Endorsements on the label—by which, I do not mean gold medals at the Paris World’s Fair of 1937—can also indicate quality. DOP, DO, DOC and PDO identify oil produced according to a “protected denomination of origin,” a certification controlled by the European Union, which includes top oil producers in Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, France and most recently Croatia. The California Olive Oil Council endorses high-quality oils produced in that state. Organic certification is also a good guarantee that an oil is what it claims to be.
4. Fetishize freshness. A harvest date included on the label conveys a producer’s pride; the most recent harvest (currently 2014-15 in the northern hemisphere) is best of all. And don’t be swayed by a “best by” date, which can be 18 months after bottling. Since the oil may already be a year or more old when bottled, you could be buying three-year-old oil without knowing it.
5. The phrase ‘first cold pressing’ is meaningless. It harks back to long-ago days when making oil was a slow, dirty process and the best and cleanest oil did, indeed, come from the first pressing of the olives. Today it’s a marketing ploy, like saying carrots contain no cholesterol or rice is gluten-free. To be extra-virgin, the oil must be pressed at ambient temperatures that ideally don’t go above 85 degrees Fahrenheit. There is no hot pressing of extra-virgin, and there is no second pressing, either.
6. Go ahead and turn up the heat. Because of its high polyphenolic content, extra-virgin is more stable than many other oils. The widely held belief that disaster lurks at temperatures above 250 degrees Fahrenheit is simply wrong. Extra-virgin remains stable up to about 410 degrees or a bit higher, depending on the extent of filtration (less filtered means lower temperatures). So deep-frying—best at 350 to 360 degrees—is more than acceptable. Use olive oil in baking too: Cakes gain a moist, rich texture when it’s swapped in for butter, as in the recipe for gluten-free blueberry muffins above.
7. Just don’t expect to get your daily allowance of Omega-3s. If extra-virgin olive oil displays more than a trace of Omega-3 fatty acids, that suggests contamination by another oil, most likely canola. Extra-virgin is extraordinarily good for us, but not because of its Omega-3 content. Rather, it’s all those antioxidants that have been shown to contribute to the defense against all manner of chronic diseases. You know an oil is high in antioxidant polyphenols when you can taste bitterness and pepperiness. The fact that those qualities also add complexity and intensity to whatever you’re eating seems almost—almost—too good to be true.
FATS::: Olive oil contains a plethora of phenols (antioxidants) such as polyphenols. Polyphenols have been extensively researched. They are one of the reasons why olive oil does not oxidize, as you would expect it to under high heat conditions.
SATURATED: Saturated fats are known as fats that solidify at room temperature. They have zero double bonds and are completely “saturated” with hydrogen molecules. This makes them a sturdy fat that lends nicely to higher melting points than less-saturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
SATURATED TYPE: There are several subtypes of saturated fats: Short, medium and long. Our body has uses for each subtype. While we once thought butter and coconut oils were bad for us, we now understand that these fats can belong in a healthy diet. For example, butter contains short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, which help provide energy for the gut as well as protect us from digestive issues. Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides that serve as direct fuel for our cells. Medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil help us burn fat, not store it.
POLY: Unlike saturated kinds, polyunsaturated fats have several double bonds, which means they have given up their hydrogen molecules and have become less sturdy. These fats are more fluid and liquid at room temperature, which makes them great for our arteries and health. Because they have several double bonds, they are much more fragile than saturated fats. When exposed to heat or light, they become more fragile and tend to break down and oxidize. Oxidized fats are dangerous for your health and your waistline. The most important polyunsaturated fats are alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid. Alpha-linolenic acid is the famous omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oils. These are highly anti-inflammatory. Linoleic acid is the omega-6 fatty acid ubiquitously found in plant foods like nuts and seeds (hemp, borage, safflower, sunflower, corn, sesame, etc.) and even some animal fats.
MONO: Monounsaturated fats, oleic fatty acids are fluid and readily available to every cell in the body, yet they are not as fragile as polyunsaturated fats, making them a sturdy fat that can stand up to heat better than polyunsaturated fats.