Extra virgin olive oil is, of all the vegetable oils, the most easily digested and the most stable when cooking. There is no lunch or dinner, restaurant table or home chef that does not have at least one bottle of oil.
UNCOOKED Its characteristics remain unchanged, especially if used uncooked. It can be poured generously over salads, steamed vegetables, soups, pasta, bread and a huge range of other dishes.
The latest tendency is to take the bottle straight to the table, with its label clearly visible so that all the information can be read and the best oil chosen to suit what is being eaten. Just as is already the case with wine, different oils may go best with different foods according to flavors.
Personal taste, of course, remains a very important factor, but the basic rule is that the oil must not destroy or cover up the flavors but rather should complement and enhance them.
SOFFRITTO AND ROASTS Olive oil is perfect for soffritto. Chopped onion and sweet-smelling herbs, little pieces of lard and bacon, garlic with parsley and carrots are browned in the oil as the base for the preparation of a great many dishes. It is excellent on roast or grilled meat or fish, perhaps accompanied by vegetables.
FRIED FOODS The subject of fried food is worthy of more attention. Fried food, which is so tasty and full of flavor if eaten in moderation, and bearing in mind a few simple rules, is actually not bad for our health:
The food must not be put into the oil until it is sufficiently hot (130-150°C for raw food to be cooked through, 150-160°C for precooked food, 160-180°C for finely chopped vegetables which need instant frying). Since a cooking thermometer is not always available, the best way to test the temperature is to put a small piece of the food that needs to be fried into the oil and see if it starts to sizzle and spit. In any case, the temperature should not be above 170-180°C.
Always fry in plenty of oil ensuring that the food is completely submerged and floats.
Only use the oil once. Do not re-use.
Keep the oil clean, removing small pieces of food that break loose and burn, thus spoiling the flavor of any food which is subsequently put in the oil.
The food which you want to fry must be at room temperature, otherwise, it will take longer to fry and absorb more oil.
Do not put too many pieces of food in the frying pan at the same time as this will lower the oil temperature, consequently increasing frying time and oil absorption. The various pieces of food may also stick to each other.
Use paper towel to dry the food carefully before putting it in the oil.
Salt should be added at the end, once the food has been drained.
The reason why olive oil is judged to be particularly suitable for cooking and frying is certainly its high smoke point, namely, the critical temperature reached at which the oil starts to burn, producing smoke and releasing harmful and toxic substances. Extra virgin olive oil boasts excellent resistance to high temperatures since it reaches its smoke point at 210°C. If we, therefore, consider that domestic frying temperature is usually around 160-170°C we can happily state that olive oil is well recommended.
All oils have a smoke point (peanut oil 220°C, sunflower oil 170°C, corn oil 160°C, soya oil 180°C, palm oil 240°C, margarine 150°C, butter 110°C, lard 180°C) but what makes olive oil a particularly recommended ingredient for various types of cooking, as well as the high smoke point, is also the presence of polyphenols and vitamin E, which protect against degradation.