An olive can be many things and this is true. If you taste it fresh of a branch, it can taste rather horrid. But once it sits in brine, the flesh becomes a marvelous treat or if you extract the fruit, you will be rewarded with an oil, rich with flavor and potential. But how the oil is obtained has always been a bit of a mystery to me. But I recently got an opportunity to watch the oil being made as it makes it way from fruit to bottle.
I went up to Sacramento and got a tour of the California Olive Ranch facilities several weeks ago to learn about the process by which olives are harvest for oil and what makes it taste so good. It turns out that olive harvesting happens just for a few weeks each year in Fall when the fruit is ready to be picked. Instead of collecting the olive fruit by hands, the fruit is picked by special machines which literally shake the fruit off the trees and they jump onto a conveyor belt into large container that transports them to the facility. Here the fruit is washed and then ground in its entirety from which the oil is collected. Fresh olive oil has a strong peppery taste which comes from the high content of phenols, a group of compounds that react with oxygen in the air to give that spicy taste. This flavor will mellow as time progresses. The Arbequina, Arbosona and the Koroneki are the three main types of olive oil from which various blends and varieties are created.
There were many other things that I picked up on this trip. I learned to roll my tongue and pull air in to my mouth when I tasted the olive oil. The more air that oxidizes the oil, the spicier the taste. Slices of crunchy and tart Granny smith apples are the palette cleanser of choice when it comes to an olive oil tasting.
I put some of what I learned on this trip in the recipe for these hasselback potatoes. The potatoes are sliced like a fish's gill to form a fan/accordion and then seasoned with olive oil, Maldon salt flakes and garam masala before they get stuck into the oven. You'll end up with a very flavorful set of potatoes that go well with any meal and the best part, they're easy to make!
Here are some of my kitchen tips that you might find useful when preparing these potatoes;
- Use Yukon Golds (somewhere in between starchy and waxy)when it comes to the potatoes in this dish otherwise my second choice would be a Norland Red (more waxy).
- You can use paneer but I prefer the taste and texture of cojita in this recipe.
- If you want to get fancy, drizzle some Arbequina olive oil (from California Olive Ranch) right before you serve the potatoes. It's fruity flavor is an unexpected and pleasant surprise.
hasselback potatoes with garam masala and cojita
yields: 6 servings
6 large potatoes (Yukon Gold preferably)
1/2 cup California Olive Ranch extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tablespoon Maldon Salt flakes
1/4 cup crumbled cotija cheese
1/4 cup packed chopped cilantro leaves
1. Place a wire rack at midlevel and preheat the oven to 400F.
2. Rinse the potatoes well under cold tap water and pat them dry with a clean kitchen towel. Using a sharp paring knife slice the potatoes perpendicular to the length keeping the cuts about 1/8th inch apart (it should like a fish gill or a fan). Make sure the cuts do not reach the bottom of the potato so the slices stay connected to the potato.
3. Place the potatoes in a baking dish. Brush the potatoes all over with the olive oil. Season them with the garam masala and salt. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
4. After 30 minutes, drizzle the potatoes with olive oil and return them to the oven and cook for another 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the potatoes with the cotija. Bake for another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and garnish the potatoes with the chopped cilantro. Serve immediately.
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by California Olive Ranch. All opinions expressed are solely my own.