Monday, January 11, 2010

All about Olio Nuovo

olio nuovo title=olio nuovo and fettunta
Olio nuovo means "new oil" in Italian. Extra virgin olive oil is the first pressing of olives, and olio nuovo is fresh extra virgin olive oil, the very first pressing of the season. It's typically pressed beginning in late October or early November and is available only for a short time. It's not filtered or even allowed to settle the way most oil is, so it may be somewhat cloudy due to particulate matter and moisture. What makes it so prized? Olio nuovo has a creamy, bright, pungent and peppery flavor. It's also rumored to have a greater amount of polyphenols, which may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

When I lived in Tuscany, my host family had a fattoria or family farm in the country outside Florence. The arrival of olivo nuovo pressed from olives grown on the property was a big deal. We enjoyed it by making fettunta, which is bread toasted over an open flame, then scraped with a raw clove of garlic, drizzled generously with olio nuovo and finally sprinkled with salt. It's greasy and messy but the best garlic bread you will ever eat!

While I loved the Tuscan olio nuovo, if you live in the US, I recommend you buy olio nuovo from a California producer, because it's going to be much fresher, and because the ones I've tasted have been very high quality. They range in price from about $10 a bottle up to $40, depending upon the producer. If you're interested in learning more about olive oil produced in California check out The New American Olive Oil which includes profiles of artisan producers and 75 recipes, each using extra virgin olive oil. There are also many California olive oil producers that offer public tours so you can taste, purchase and maybe even see the oil being pressed. Since most olio nuovo can be expensive, even if you don't go visit a producer, I'd recommend going to a store where you can try before you buy such as Pasta Shop/Market Hall Foods in Oakland or Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco. To enjoy it at its best, use it within a few months after purchase.

How to use it
In my opinion, olio nuovo is best for finishing a dish, not for cooking. In addition to using it to make fettunta, I recommend drizzling it on:

Cannellini beans
Fennel salad (raw, shaved thin and tossed with lemon juice, salt and pepper)
Fish, grilled or seared
Goat cheese
Greens that are steamed, such as chard, spinach or Tuscan kale
Lentil salad or soup
Pinzimonio (Italian vegetable antipasto)
Polenta
Potatoes, either red or gold boiling potatoes
Salad, but a delicate one, such as Spring mix or herb
Scallops, raw or seared
Spaghetti
Wild nettle and green garlic soup

If you have a special way of using olio nuovo, please feel free to share it in the comments section.