AIWFC: Newborn Olive Oil

Today is Day Five of my holiday blogathon, entitled All I Want For Christmas. This is where I scour the town looking for cool food-related presents that secretly, I would really like to get, but that I’m also pretty sure you and yours would love too. If you missed previous installments, click here.

According to the Good Book, the reason for the season is newborn Jesus, but yesterday at the Olio Nuovo Class led by Nostrana chef Cathy Whims and olive oil sommelier Jeff Bergman, it came to my attention that newborn olive oil holds a special place in December’s heart as well.

Olio nuovo, aka new(born) olive oil, is the fresh, raw, antioxidant-filled and powerfully-flavorful extra virgin product of exceedingly careful harvesting (not running one’s truck into the olive tree and scooping up the traumatized fallen fruit, as Bergman explained while comparing old olive oil-making processes to modern ones), getting the picked olives to press in as little as eight hours, tearing of the fruit to release the oil verses grinding it with a granite stone, and using a low-speed, low-temperature centrifuge to separate the olive oil from the olive water.

Sharp, bright, fruity, grassy, and peppery, these polyphenol-packed oils are fleeting, “meant to be savored, not saved.” Harvested and produced in the last week of October and first week of November, they are best consumed 60-90 days from their bottling, when their flavors are most pronounced and they’ll still brashly burn the back of your throat, a sensation Bergman calls the “polyphenol effect.”

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“Olio nuovo is unlike anything you could ever taste,” Whims declared as we dipped tasting spoons into three distinct Tuscan and Sicilian olio nuovos, letting the oil hover between our tongue and the roof of our mouths and drawing air through it to enhance the flavors, as instructed. “And in three months it will something totally different.”

In Italy, Whims explained, the autumn arrival of olio nuovo is heralded with raucous celebrations involving pitchers of just-pressed olive oil (as fresh as a mere 15 minutes old) and fettunta–a simple snack of toasted bread rubbed with fresh garlic cloves, liberally drizzed with olio nuovo and sprinkled with sea salt.

“You should use so much oil it’s dripping down your arm as you eat it,” Bergman said happily.

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Should you wish to host your own oily-armed fettunta feast, during the month of December (or until supplies run out) Nostrana will be selling the following three estate-bottled Italian olio nuovos: Capezzana Olio Nuovo (Tuscany, $15), Frescobaldi Laudemio Olio Nuovo (Tuscany, $30), and Gianfranco Becchina Olio Verde Novello (Sicily, $45). Obviously, these would make the ideal gift for the olive oil enthusiast in your life.
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But let’s say you wish to take this gift even further, and that you are the impulsive type and wish to give someone their gift today. How providential then that tonight at 6pm, Nostrana is holding an Olio Nuovo Wine Dinner mimicking the menu presented at yesterday’s class. Seats are $85 per person, including wine pairings, and reservations can be had by calling 503.234.2427. Since I’m not one to stay mum on the subject of what I’ve ingested, let me give you a preview of the offerings.

Whims and Bergman collaborated on each dish with a seamless stream of informative and delightfully anecdotal dialogue as smooth as the olio nuovo Bergman joyfully poured on everything in sight, lovingly referring to his emerald-green object of affection as the “crowning glory” of Tuscan cuisine. First demonstrating a beef carpaccio, Bergman carved paper thin slices of a Piedmontese beef tenderloin that had been partially-frozen for easier cutting. Whims plated the ruddy rounds, scattered sliced radishes, celery leaves, and deep-fried capers on top, and shaved parmigiano over the whole affair.

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Next up was the humble but sublime ribollita, a traditional peasant dish which Whims characterized as a prime example of authentic Tuscan cuisine. The idea is to take leftover minestrone soup, fortify it with chunks of stale bread until it resembles “wet stuffing,” form patties with it and fry them, then drown them in olio nuovo. A comely dish, it is not, but ultra-satisfying on a cold winter afternoon, it is.
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Moving on, Bergman demonstrated how to gut a squid, then he and Whims transformed the pale, flaccid little tubes into a symphony of wondrously-tender grilled calamari tossed with chickpeas, slivered fennel, lemon slices, and torn Tremiti olives and accented with wild fennel seeds and pepperoncini flakes. A splash of colatura, aka anchovy juice, added a touch of umami funk.
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For dessert, Whims and Bergman whipped up an ethereal olive oil torta crowned with dried Turkish apricots poached for a half hour in Vin Santo, vanilla bean and citrus zest.  ”I love the texture–it’s soft, light, and melts in your mouth,” Bergman said. “It’s like a big Twinkie cake.”

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“Put your nose to it,” he instructed the class. “You can smell the olio nuovo.”

And on that note, we all put our greasy hands together and applauded, visions of olio nuovo bottles dancing in our heads.

More info on tonight’s Olio Nuovo Wine Dinner here>>