Fresh, quality extra virgin olive oil is a relatively new concept for many of us who are just beginning to enjoy the boundless options its flavors add to our culinary world. With Thanksgiving on its way, the olive oil is flowing in the creative minds and kitchens of chefs and home cooks alike. There’s no better time to get inspired by new ways to infuse a little olive oil into this year’s feast.
Tradition often reigns over the Thanksgiving feast. It’s likely a few untouchables — those dishes that have remained unchanged for generations — take precedence in the center of the holiday spread. At the risk of upsetting the family harmony, it’s probably not wise to mess with these, but certainly there’s room for a subtle twist.
Curtis Cord, publisher of Olive Oil Times, keeps “pretty close to the playbook” when it comes to the traditional side dishes his family loves. Cord includes butter in his family’s favorites, but he’s found that “including a few choice extra virgin olive oils can elevate the tastes from their bland buttery base.”
That elevation of taste is one way olive oil really shines at the holiday table. It takes the expected holiday fare and enhances ingredients with a range of flavors and strengths. Where butter may disguise or dominate the natural accents of ingredients, olive oil accentuates and complements them in a way that is pleasantly unexpected. Mashed potatoes are the perfect example of a Thanksgiving standard that traditionally relies on butter.
Sandy Sonnenfelt of The Pasta Shop in Berkeley, California, suggests substituting olive oil for the cream and butter this year. She recommends “a really nice buttery olive oil, not one with a lot of green notes because you want that comfort flavor.”
Spuds of the fluffy white variety are not the only benefactors of a quality extra virgin. “I particularly like it on yams or sweet potatoes,” Sonnenfelt says. “Take them out of the oven, open the skins, drizzle with olive oil and add spice: salt, pepper, cinnamon and brown sugar.” She also likes to spice them with zaatar, a Middle Eastern spice blend of thyme, sumac, and roasted sesame seeds.
Olive oil is a natural when paired with seasonal vegetables for this holiday spread. Sonnenfelt is fond of an olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette for a Thanksgiving salad, while Trader Joe’s Cookbook author, Deana Gunn likes to experiment with a variety of olive oil based vinaigrettes mixed with vinegars of several varieties like red wine, champagne or apple cider, as well as mustards and herbs. When the heat is on, Gunn chooses a combination of butter and olive oil to sauté her veggies. The higher smoke point of olive oil and the flavor of butter combined give her the “best of both worlds.” She also suggests tossing roasted vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper for a simple yet flavorful result.
Brussels sprouts or haricots verts are the greens of choice on Cord’s family table. “I just boil the Brussels sprouts to soften them, slice them into quarters and sauté in a peppery EVOO and sprinkle with sea salt,” explains Cord. “The haricot vert I steam for almost no time and toss in a mild extra virgin like the one from Berkeley Olive Grove I’m using now. String beans shouldn’t have a kick. They look beautiful and a nice fruity EVOO is just what they deserve.”
There’s no need to hold out for the big feast before dazzling guests with a fusion of olive oil inspired flavors. When so many gatherings start early on, appetizers provide the perfect opportunity to prime those palates while catching up with friends and family.
Sonnenfelt, whose family loves to linger for hours on Thanksgiving, serves vegetables to dip in olive oil mixed with the Egyptian spice, dukkah. She emphasizes the versatility of olive oil based dips and spreads like a lima bean scordalia. Scordalia combines a bean of choice, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Sonnenfelt describes it as a “simple, delicious dish for vegetables, as a spread on crostini or a cracker.”
Certainly the main attraction deserves a brush with the oil. “Rub the turkey with olive oil,” says Gunn. “For extra flavor, combine the olive oil with dried herbs, salt, black pepper, and crushed garlic before rubbing on the turkey. For the herbs, use a combination of dried sage and thyme or use a poultry herb blend.”
Cord takes it to the next level by upping the presentation. “What I’ve noticed can really send this family stand-by over the edge is dressing it at the table with a robust olive oil. I just zig-zag the fresh EVOO over the whole plate before the steam brings the sublime aromas right back to me. Count on me to do that Thursday. Turkey meat loves extra virgin olive oil.”
Dessert is not to be missed on this holiday. Harvest flavors of pumpkin and apple warmly spiced with cinnamon and cloves tempt even those with the fullest bellies. What better way to bake than with olive oil? “Most people don’t think about using olive oil in their sweet or savory baked goods,” Gunn explains. “The flavor of a mild or light olive oil will not be detected and the fruitiness of it will complement the other flavors in baked sweets. When making pumpkin bread, oatmeal cookies, cakes, or pie crust, substitute a mild olive oil for butter and use about 1/4 less than the amount of butter you would normally use.”
Hopefully ideas are churning with ways to enhance this year’s Thanksgiving feast with the pungent kick or the fruity flavors of a few favorite extra virgin olive oils. The possibilities are endless any time of year but especially during the holiday season, let the olive oil flow!