The question I’m asked most at the market is: “I use olive oil in dressings…how else can I use it.”
Well, I’m just back from a visit to gorgeous Maggie Beer, where, of course, I immediately volunteered as kitchen hand. As all of us who loved The Cook And The Chef television program knows, good extra virgin olive oil lies at the heart of Maggie’s cooking. This is how, preparing lunch and dinner over the course of 24 hours for six people, we used a 375ml bottle of fresh, grassy Australian-grown Maggie Beer Extra Virgin Olive Oil…
My first task was to toss a lunch-time tomato, basil and avocado salad liberally in olive oil, salt and pepper. When Maggie says “liberally”, she means “go for it” - no timid, faint-hearted drizzling but a generous all-over splosh followed by a thorough mix through by hand. The juice of the home-grown heirloom tomatoes mixed with the oil and basil to make its own delicious dressing which we mopped up with bread after demolishing the rest of the dish.
When thoughts turned to dinner, it was back into the kitchen to prepare pizzas. The fire in the outdoor oven was lit while we got to work on a stash of veggies from Maggie’s garden: purple peppers, large shiny aubergines and small zucchini. First the peppers were grilled whole on a barbeque until blackened and then put in bags to loosen the charred skins which we then peeled off. The peppers were cut into wide strips and tossed in olive oil. The zucchini were cut lengthways, brushed with oil and grilled. By now, the level on the oil bottle was really starting to head south.
Next it was time to prepare the aubergines - but this time the olive oil message was less-is-more. We cut them into rounds, about 1.5cm wide, brushed each side lightly with oil, scored a diamond pattern into each side of the rounds and then grilled them on the barbeque until they were soft and brown and unctuous. Aubergines will soak up as much oil as you give them and the temptation is to keep adding more. Resist.
The pizza oven was ready. Time to roll out the pizza dough, make the bases and put them briefly in the oven. Out they came, ready for a drizzle of oil, a smattering of cheeses - roughly torn up pieces of fior di latte and stracchino - a pile of those vegetables we’d prepared, some anchovies and back in the oven. Ready to eat! But first, who could resist one last little drizzle of Maggie’s oil, its vitality and just-right pepperiness giving that final zing of flavour.
To make the most of the residual heat in the oven, in went a boned shoulder of lamb to cook slowly - ready for the lunchtime sandwiches we would make the next day with a selection of home-made relishes and chutneys. The lamb had been marinated in rosemary, preserved lemon, whole garlic cloves and olive oil, of course, but we drizzled a bit more oil over it for good luck as it went into the oven.
By now the bottle was almost empty – just enough left, next day, to gently coat quartered fresh figs from Maggie’s tree together with chopped fresh mint and salt and pepper. Onto a large platter went the fig salad and two burrata cheeses. When the mozzarella shell of the cheeses was cut, the creamy insides combined with the oil and mint and sweet figs to make an unforgettable, spoiling precursor to our lamb sandwiches.
Dinner? Time to open another bottle of extra virgin olive oil and get pan-frying those squid that Maggie’s husband had caught…
Visit our Nolans Road organic produce stall at the Mount Gambier Farmers Market the first Saturday of the month.