Pouring on the Olive Oil for Thanksgiving

For Thanksgiving, olive oil is flowing in the creative minds and kitchens of chefs and home cooks alike. EVOO elevates holiday flavors without changing the beloved classics.
Oct. 26, 2015 20:11 UTC
Lori Zanteson

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, 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 green gold into this year’s feast.

Tradition often reigns over Thanksgiving. There are usu­ally a few untouch­ables — those dishes that have remained unchanged for gen­er­a­tions — that 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 those, but cer­tainly, there’s room for a sub­tle twist.

Curtis Cord, edi­tor-in-chief 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 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!

This arti­cle was orig­i­nally pub­lished November 12, 2010.

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