Recipe Corner: Olive Oil

by Lorna Sass

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.

Lorna Sass is a widely published food writer and an award-winning cookbook author. Her Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way cookbook won the 2007 James Beard Foundation award for the best cookbook in the Healthy Focus category. Visit her listing on our website.

Pasta with Radicchio and Watercress

2 to 3 servings

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.

  • 8 ounces cut pasta, such as penne, spirals, or shells
  • 1 bunch watercress
  • 1 small head radicchio
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons roasted garlic olive oil
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce, such as tamari or shoyu

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.

Back to the June 2007 Newsletter