Expert tasters can judge the quality of an olive oil just smelling it, and they are not afraid to drink it from the official, small blue glass. But when it comes to “normal people” there is no better way to enjoy a good extra virgin olive oil than using it in a tasty recipe.
That is why Arsial (Lazio’s Regional Agency for Development and Innovation in Agriculture) and Uliveti del Lazio (Lazio’s olive oil producers association) asked a bunch of young, clever chefs to come up with their own interpretation of some of the best extra virgin olive oils from the region. Lazio has a great variety of cultivars and many excellent products, and the region is home to 5 out of 42 Italian olive oil PDOs.
“The Extra Virgin Dinners project,” says Uliveti del Lazio President Loriana Abbruzzetti, “aims to improve the regional food and restaurant business. It will allow the link between the regional culinary traditions and the tastes of local dishes to grow strong; this is where extra virgin olive oil plays a major role.” Massimo Gargano, Unaprol President, also underlines that “it’s the strong bond to our land which creates the unique and distinctive character of our products.” He adds that chefs and restaurateurs are very important in promoting the regional food and wine assets.
The first chef that was invited to bring his cuisine to the Enoteca Regionale Palatium (the regional products showroom located in the very center of Rome), was Dario Tornatore. Twenty-six years old, he was born in Naples but settled down in Rome a few years ago after working with great European chefs such as Gordon Ramsay. The menu he created for the occasion perfectly met the brief: enhance regional products and ingredients by using the right extra virgin — which he achieved by mixing his Neapolitan background and the Roman tradition with a modern twist.
The first course was a Roman artichoke carpaccio served with an interesting variation on a classic Neapolitan recipe, the “mozzarella in carrozza” (a golden-crusted fried mozzarella sandwich). Dario Tornatore replaced the mozzarella with Caciofiore di Columella, a tasty sheep cheese whose origins date back to the Roman times. He paired it with the artichoke-flavoured Bon Riposo extra virgin, an Itrana monocultivar by l’Isoletta farm from the Latina province.
A dish of spaghetti followed, seasoned with a creamy dried salt-cured cod and Romanesco broccoli (the beautiful and tasty fractal-shaped variety of cauliflower) with the final touch given by the gentle Fons Olei blend by San Clemente farm from Tivoli, not far from Rome.
Another spot on choice was to use the delicate Olio del Podere by the Chiusa della Vasca farm in Castelnuovo di Farfa (in the Rieti region) to prepare the freshly made mayonnaise. This was served with the mackerel confit (a very common fish caught along the Lazio shores) and the courgettes escabeche.
We would have liked a hint of olive oil in the chocolate cream in the dessert, too – a sweet version of the tramezzino sandwich (an old favourite Roman street food) filled with an iced cream with the famous chocolate made in a Trappist monastery not far from Rome.
Next “Extra Virgin Dinner” will feature Heros De Agostinis, who also worked with Heinz Beck at the luxury restaurant La Pergola in Rome.