Virgin Territory: All About Olive Oil

Nancy Harmon Jenkins is a noted food writer and cookbook author who just happens to spend time here on Maine’s midcoast when she is not in her home in Cortona, Italy.  Here she is readily accessible and enthusiastically shares her love and knowledge of Mediterranean cooking, especially its use of olive oil.

Virgin TerritoryNancy’s newest publication Virgin Territory is the story of her fascination with olive oil and, in her words, how it led her on an unending and predictably futile search to find the world’s greatest olive oil.  What she learned she shares, and for any of us interested in the history, culture and making of olive oil as well as tasty recipes, Virgin Territory is a must have.

photo (6)At a recent ladies’ luncheon, Nancy made her audience keenly aware of the differences in olive oil by having us taste different ones, an experience similar to tasting wines.  It doesn’t take much to discover that not all olive oils are created equal!

I can’t remember everything I learned, but here is what stuck in my mind:

  1. Never buy olive oil that is in a plastic bottle.  That little tidbit elicited quite a few gasps as grocery shelves are stocked with ones in plastic and most of us have probably bought one of them.  
  2. Olive oil is best contained in tins or dark bottles and should be kept in a cool, dark place so as not to lose its nutrients.
  3. Use only extra virgin olive oil as there is no reason to use light or regular.
  4.  Have several different oils on hand as different qualities are for different purposes.
  5. Olive oil can be substituted for any fat.
  6. Avoid flavored olive oils. Nancy’s response to a question about them was, “Why ruin a good thing by changing its flavor?  The same is true for my coffee!” (I better not tell  I’m having a caramel flavored one as I write this.) 

tablescapeNancy’s discussion of olive oil was beautifully complemented by the table setting which struck me as rustically sophisticated.

tablescapeEvery aspect from the burlap overlaying tablecloths

tablescapeto the greenery lining the middle of the table

tablescapeto the small pots of olive trees was perfect.  Would you believe our hostess grew all those little trees?  Talk about going the extra mile!

photo (5)The delightful menu was prepared from recipes in Virgin Territory, and I especially liked the green olive tapenade that accompanied toasted baguette slices.

Green Olive Tapenade

2 plump garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

Grated zest and juice of 1/2 orange or 1 whole lemon

6-8 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped

2 heaping T. capers, preferably salted, soaked, rinsed and dried

4-5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only, chopped (1/2 t._

1 c. coarsely chopped pitted green olives

1/4 c. finely chopped raw almonds

1/4-1/3 c. olive oil

Pinch of crushed or ground red chile pepper or freshly ground black pepper

Combine the garlic, orange zest and juice, anchovies, capers and thyme in a food processor and pulse briefly to blend.  Add the chopped olives and the almonds and pulse again to make a rough paste.  Withe the procession on, slowly pour the oil into the mix.  It can be as rough or as smooth as you wish.  You may not need all the oil–there’s sometimes a lot of oil in the olives.  Taste when it’s the right consistency and add a little chile if you wish or some black pepper. You may also wish to add a little more orange juice or some lemon juice if the mix is very salty.

What I like about this and every recipe that Nancy shares in Virgin Territory is that it is presented in such a folksy way making it seem like you are cooking with a friend in the kitchen.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind


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20 thoughts on “Virgin Territory: All About Olive Oil

  1. I’ll be getting in our olive harvest from our trees in the next 4 or 5 weeks….they seem to have done very well indeed this year..

  2. This looks fantastic, what a fun evening! Hope you are having a great day and thanks so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

  3. I love olive oil and a tasting would be so fun! I’ve never bought it in a plastic bottle, but that’s good to know. I have had flavored olive oils. My sil gave me peach one time. It was good, but you can’t beat a wonderful extra virgin! Thanks for sharing with SYC.

  4. What a beautiful table setting! I definitely need her book. And how wonderful that Nancy gets to enjoy beautiful Maine and Italy 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Linda. xoxo, L

  5. What a delightful event! This would have been so fun to attend, taste and experience. Olive oils are so hard because you spend a lot of money and don’t know if you will like them until after you get them. The best I ever had was when we visited friends in Italy and she had gone to a place and pressed her own. It was not clear but cloudy with all of the bits and pieces and it was to die for!.
    I want to have a party like this with my friends – from the rustic table to the teaching – maybe not growing my own olive trees though!

  6. I would have gasped too!…but lately I have been buying the EVOO in the dark bottles…and yes, I love plain olive oil…I may add some herbs to the oil when it is already poured into the container…Great tips…and gorgeous table!….Wow, I would have loved to attend a luncheon such as that one!!…

  7. Love this table and the event sounds wonderful! I would have loved it, and I’m now off to purge the oil in plastic bottles…

  8. That really looked like a great event. How nice that you could enjoy it. Thanks for sharing those tips. Now I’m headed to my cupboard to see if I have any plastic bottles!

  9. Such a lovely table setting, Lulu! Wonderful recipe. 🙂

  10. I always buy my olive oil at Costco based on the recommendation of Lynne Rossetto Kasper of The Splendid Table on NPR. Now I don’t know what to believe, but I am inclined to go along with the idea that a glass bottle would be better. This is a lovely table, lots of layering, yet simple at the same time. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you!

    Big Texas Hugs,
    Susan and Bentley

    1. Part of our tasting included an oil from plastic. The taste was incredibly different and totally sold me on the idea of not buying plastic. You might try it.

  11. I love your tablescape, you put such thought and detail into it. So glad I dropped by this morning.

    Have a good day

    1. I wish I could take credit for the wonderful table, but it was the work of a friend. Thanks for stopping by.

  12. thanks for sharing the tips Linda, what a great party! I didn’t know about the plastic bottles, but it instantly makes sense as all the real Italian OO seems to be packaged in tins. You run in a very creative circle of friends!

    1. Yes, Jenna, creativity abounds in my little part of Maine which is another of the reasons I love it here.

  13. Thank you, Linda! That was a wonderful day and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Peggy Watson was responsible for the decor–and she outdid herself. If Peggy ever gives up her talents as a painter, a poet and a landscape gardener, she could turn her hand to designing fabulous table settings too!

    1. Indeed, she is a most talented lady.

      1. THANK YOU TO YOU BOTH! Traditions that we all follow as creative people including the two of you!

  14. Linda, I really enjoyed this post! I am a huge fan of olive oil, only the extra-virgin kind! My husband says it could make bad food taste better. I must get this book. I have actually been to an olive oil tasting and it was loads of fun!

    1. Do get the book. It is chock full of good stuff.

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