a-handmade-gift-of-infused-olive-oilIt’s beginning to look a lot like…  oh no, not that! But, if the big-box stores are any indication, we can’t be far from the busiest gift-giving time of the year.

For those of you who take the time to make gifts more personal, especially from your own kitchen, it’s never too soon to begin a little planning. This is the year of specialty foods, and giving something special with extra virgin olive oil is at the top of my list.

It doesn’t have to be a fancy bottle of expensive EVOO. Even a moderately priced extra virgin olive oil with good flavor can become extraordinary when the oil is infused with dried herbs and seasoning blends, and the bottle is a born-again wine bottle.

Although citrus, fresh herbs and my personal favorite, roasted garlic, offer an aromatic treat, save those for freezing into olive oil and herb ice cubes and personal use. Infusing olive oil with anything containing moisture can create an environment for the growth of microorganisms that can cause botulism. Dried herbs, on the other hand, can be used safely, and the longer they are left in an olive oil bath, the stronger the flavor.

This is the perfect use for the overabundance of parsley, rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme, sage, plum tomatoes and chili peppers that we harvest feverishly from our backyard gardens this time of year, racing to beat the first frost. Drying is easy, even without the use of a food dehydrator.

Thoroughly dry herbs in the sun, in an oven at low heat or tied and hung from beams and door jambs around the kitchen, filling the room with a wonderfully herbaceous aroma. When their ready, herbs should be matched with a mildly flavorful extra virgin olive oil.

Choose one that is subtle and will not overpower the infused flavors of the sun-dried tomatoes, peppers and herbs. Be bold when combining the flavors and colors, matching red chilis with garlic granules and sprigs of thyme or stalks of rosemary with a lemon pepper spice blend and slices of bright yellow banana peppers. Allowing the aromatics to infuse in a covered container for a few days before bottling will intensify the flavor.

Even if gift making is not your thing, and you don’t know an herb from poison ivy, you can still give a gift of extra virgin olive oil. The next time you are invited to a dinner party, instead of a fruity red wine, hand the host a fruity golden bottle of your favorite extra virgin olive oil. An experienced host will appreciate the care with which your gift was selected.

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