One of the most important ingredients in my pantry, tied for a photo finish with salt, is olive oil. Always close at hand, in at least two or three varieties, it’s my top pick for baking and cooking, both sweet and savory. We’ve talked about the subject at length, but there’s still so much more to learn about such a historical, essential staple.
Reinvigorated by an inspiring Flavor Your Life Virtual Influencer Event, I’m taking another deep dive into this golden-green elixir. Assembled for the express purpose of sharing the rich, delicious heritage of authentic extra virgin olive oil from Europe, they’re on a mission to banish subpar, rancid blends from kitchens everywhere.
Extra virgin olive oil is the gold standard since it’s made simply by pressing olives without heat or chemicals, which makes it virtually free of the bitter acidity plaguing lesser, cheaper blends. A panel of trained, expert tasters test for defects, ensuring that each drop encapsulates a harmonious balance of fruitiness and spiciness. If the oil doesn’t have that signature essence, it won’t receive an Extra Virgin rating, no matter the painstaking processing methods employed.
Contrary to common belief, extra virgin olive oil has a high smoking point of 400°F, which is why it gets top billing in my cookbooks as a go-to for almost all recipes. The best dishes start with quality ingredients; there’s no two ways about it. That’s why I was so eager to put Le Stagioni d’Italia to the [taste] test.
Billed as having a robust flavor of artichoke and almond with a medium bitter, spicy aftertaste, as well as a green, ripe, fruity aroma, this powerful profile is a clear winner. Featured in a number of rice dishes during the online event, I was hungry for a piece of the action at home, with my own personal touches. Though the golden risotto was quite tempting, glowing luminously even on my dull computer screen, I had to go with cooler, more summery fare.
Sweet cherry tomatoes are slowly roasted to concentrate their natural sugars into tiny umami bombs, bursting with flavor across the landscape of plump carnaroli rice. Though these short grains are typically used for risotto or paella, they’re brilliantly tender yet toothsome once chilled, creating a more texturally satisfying salad than long grains that tend to get dry and brittle over time.
Amplifying the inherently rich profile of the oil itself, I decided to fold actual artichoke hearts into the mix, and instead of using cottage cheese as called for in the original recipe, finish each serving with a creamy dollop of almond ricotta. Infused with fresh herbs and zesty lemon peel, it’s bright, vibrant, complex, luxurious, and yet still approachable and comforting all at once. That’s the beauty of good olive oil; such versatility knows no bounds.
- 2 Cups Cherry Tomatoes, Halved
- 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Divided
- 1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
- 3/4 Teaspoon Salt, Divided
- 1 Lemon, Zested and Juiced
- 1 1/2 Cups Dry Carnaroli Rice
- 1 (12 Ounce) Jar Marinated, Quartered Artichoke Hearts, Thoroughly Drained
- 1/4 Cup Fresh Chives, Minced
- 1/4 Cup Fresh Basil, Minced
- 1 Tablespoon Fresh Mint, Minced
- 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
- 1/2 Cup Almond-Based Vegan Ricotta*
- Preheat your oven to 250 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the tomatoes with the cut sides facing up on your prepared baking sheet and drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil all over. Sprinkle with sugar, lemon zest, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set the sheet in the center over you oven and roast for about 1 1/2 hours, until the tomatoes are softened, wrinkled, and lightly caramelized around the edges. Let cool completely.
- Meanwhile, bring about 3 liters (12 cups) of water to a boil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring periodically, for 12 - 14 minutes, until the grains are tender but still toothsome. Drain thoroughly and rinse in cold water to immediately stop the cooking process.
- In a large bowl, mix together the rice, remaining olive oil, lemon juice, artichokes, chives, basil, mint, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Add half of the roasted tomatoes and mix gently.
- Divide the salad equally between four bowls and top each serving with almond ricotta and the remaining roasted tomatoes. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
- Stored in an airtight container in the fridge, this rice salad will keep for up 5 - 7 days.
*To make your own almond ricotta, combine 1 cup blanched, slivered almonds, 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/3 - 2/3 cup of water in your food processor. Pulse until creamy, adjusting the liquid as needed, until fairly smooth.Kite Hill Ricotta, cheese, 8 Ounce
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 374Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 20gCholesterol: 10mgSodium: 522mgCarbohydrates: 29gFiber: 4gSugar: 6gProtein: 10g
All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimations.