When Thomas Jefferson tasted olive oil on his trip to Italy during the eighteenth century, he was so impressed by its flavor that he imported olive trees and planted them at Monticello. Though Jefferson's attempts never bore fruit, over the next two centuries immigrants from Southern Italy found a welcoming environment for their olive trees in Northern California. As a result, American cooks have a wide variety of high quality domestic as well as imported oils from which to choose.
Since I began cooking professionally about three decades ago, an imported stainless steel olivera has been stationed within arm's reach of my stove. Pouring the glistening green oil from the olivera straight into a pan is, for me, a primal step in the cooking process.
In addition to having a fruity virgin olive oil on hand, I always stock a variety of herb-infused oils, usually rosemary, garlic, and basil. I use these either for salad dressings or to finish off a soup or stew: just a tablespoon or two infuses rich herbal complexity to any dish and is especially delicious in a cooling summer gazpacho or a quickly created pasta entrée like the one that follows.
Olive oil marries surprisingly well with soy sauce in the splash-on dressing for this summer pasta salad. Serve it warm or at room temperature.
Boil pasta according to package directions.
While pasta cooks, chop watercress (leaves and stems) and radicchio and set them in a large bowl.
Add drained pasta. Dribble on oil and soy sauce to taste. Toss well.
Recipe adapted from Lorna Sass' Short-Cut Vegetarian: Great Taste in No Time Copyright Lorna Sass 1997.