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Olive oil the essence of pure flavor

Sherrel Jones shares her passion for olive oil and a recipe that best expresses its flavor.
BY SHERREL JONES, Modified: May 13, 2014 at 4:10 pm •  Published: May 14, 2014

I love olive oil, all kinds of olive oil, but do have my favorites.

Extra virgin unfiltered is probably my favorite, but I also love it infused with either fruits like lemon, orange and sun-dried tomatoes or herbs like basil and rosemary. I always liked olive oil, but about a quarter of a century ago, I began to take my appreciation to the next level.

I had the privilege of attending Lorenza de Medici’s Cooking School, The Villa Table in the Badia Coltibuno situated in the hills of Tuscany between Florence and Sienna in Italy. This Italian descendant of Catherine de Medici lived with her husband, winemaker Piero Stucci, in a beautiful converted monastery built in the ninth century made of centuries-old stones, which also were cut into huge disks for pressing olives. Perhaps it was the history of the place or just geography alone that transported my affection for olive oil to sheer love. From the exquisite eggplants harvested from her gardens to giant Porcini mushrooms gathered from walks in those captivating hills around the Badia Coltibuno, I watched Lorenza saute everything in it.

We devoted an entire day to tasting olive oils from all over Italy in an effort to refine our pallets and define those characteristics of Italian terroir. Our oil tasting day followed a day of bread making to counter the amount of oil our select little group would imbibe. It was a remarkable experience. It is hard not to compare every oil with that amazing stuff we sampled fresh from the time-worn stones of Coltibuno.

These days I watch other well-known Italian cooks and chefs as they whisk olive oils into dressings and saute vegetables and other specialties on the Cooking Channel and Food Network. Some caution us about not letting the oil smoke. Other chefs describe the readiness of oil as seeing a shimmering effect on the surface when heating.

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Maialino’s Olive Oil Cake

Author Notes: Olive oil cake at its best has a crackling crust and an aromatic oil-rich middle, which, if it held any more moisture, would be pudding. Pulling this off should be easy — there aren’t even egg whites to whip and fold, or butter to cream — but it isn’t always. This one, however, is perfect, and will ruin you for all others. The recipe is from Maialino Restaurant in New York City. Maialino also serves it at breakfast in muffin form, and they've been known to turn it into a birthday cake, layered with mascarpone buttercream.

(Makes a 9-inch round cake.)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/4 cups whole milk

3 large eggs

1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup Grand Marnier Liqueur

•Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil, butter, or spray a 9-inch cake pan that is at least 2 inches deep with cooking spray, and line the bottom with parchment paper cut to fit. (If the cake pan is less than 2 inches deep, divide between 2 pans and start checking for doneness at 25 minutes.)

•Whisk the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and powder. In another bowl, whisk the olive oil, milk, eggs, orange zest and juice, and Grand Marnier. Add the dry ingredients; whisk until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour or until the top is golden and cake tester comes out clean. Transfer cake to a rack and let cool.

Sherrel’s cooking notes: The spring form pan with parchment cut to fit over bottom makes an easy transfer to a serving plate. Make a simple glaze with 1 cup of powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons grated orange zest and just enough Grand Marnier or fresh-squeezed orange juice to form a glaze. Drizzle over the top of the cake after moving to a presentation plate. Serve with fresh berries and whipped cream.

Source: Adapted from Food 52 genius recipes.

Where to Go

If you would like to enjoy your own olive oil tasting, head to Olive & Co., 7602 N May Ave. You can also call 242-6457 or go online to


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