Summer's bounty of green leaves, tomatoes and herbs makes for the easiest meals to eat whatever the weather.
Drizzling olive oil over them adds rich texture and taste, and a good-quality oil needs little more than a squeeze of lemon or dash of vinegar to add interest.
I often don’t add either until I have tasted how the oil suits the leaves, especially when the blend includes some peppery types. Dressings don’t have to be mixed ahead. There is a peppery kick from most olive oils, so hold back the quantity of the stronger ones, especially over lettuce.
It’s best not to use extra virgin olive oil for cooking at high temperatures. Valuable nutrients will be lost. Instead,use basic olive when cooking with heat.
Most extra virgin bottles specify that cold extraction has been used. Cheaper brands which don’t specify cold pressing will have had the olives heated to extract more oil and could result in the loss of valuable nutrients namely good fatty acids and vitamins E and K.
Watch sell-by-dates. One own brand (not in our Top 8) from a large supermarket had an expiry date of two weeks after purchase and the taste had faded. Buy with six to 12 months to go.
In Spain, I learned that colour is not an indicator of quality. With this in mind, oils were served in small blue glasses so we could judge quality without prejudice.
You can taste the warmth of Portuguese sun in this soft oil. No acid hit, it’s smooth and lightly fruity. Certified organic, it shows what this country can do. Olive varieties Verdeal, Madural and Cobrançosa are traditional Portuguese, and make an interesting blend. Delicious for dipping, drizzling on bread, on new potatoes. From The Real Olive stalls at English Market, Cork and farmers’ markets.
By far the prettiest packing in an attractive, colourful, striped can which makes an ideal gift. There are also matching ceramic bottles that can be topped up. The oil is light and mild, yet has a gentle peppery kick. For delicate salads and soft cheeses, dipping bread, sliced meats. Not cheap, but a treat.
In an attractive rectangular, dark bottle, this unctuous oil has a nice, peppery kick, and is smooth and well balanced. Pour over salads, over toast rubbed with a halved fresh tomato, or on hot new potatoes. Makes a nice summer gift.
A surprise product from the Danish chain, this Italian oil is also a nice surprise with its mild, pleasant flavour and medium weight. A good all-rounder and an ideal introduction to olive oil.
This Greek olive oil, produced for National Organic Products in Killarney, is certifiedorganic and made from Koroneiki olives, typical of Greece. The result is a mild, well-rounded flavour with little peppery kick and medium viscosity. Good for salads and on hot vegetables.
In a dark bottle (good for maintaining freshness), from olives in Tuscany. Well balanced with a peppery kick, the weight is medium and will suit soups and weighty chickpea salads. A good one for dipping bread on picnics.
Medium weight with a light fruitiness and a mild back taste of pepper. Cold pressed not mentioned on label. Expensive, but a well-balanced oil. In a glass bottle, we avoided all plastic bottles as glass recycles better and the acid in oils can cause leaching from plastic.
A light style with nice fruitiness, this has some slightly harsh acidic pepperiness. Good, but expensive for the quality.