My new favorite activity this summer was picnicking. I’ve gotten pretty good at it too—I haven’t forgotten to pack utensils since June. No matter what I take to eat, though, I always make sure to bring a bottle of high quality extra virgin olive oil. I’ll dip bread in it, mix up on-site salad dressings, and drizzle it on everything from fava beans to fresh sliced heirloom tomatoes.

My new favorite is Middle Earth Organics Extra Virgin Olive Oil, one of three new olive oils the Co-op has recently picked up. The other two are from Lucini Italia and are remarkably distinct tasting in their own right.

Middle Earth Organics

The Middle Earth Organics olive oil is incredibly sweet and buttery but still retains that kick of pepper when it hits the back of your throat—a trait that all high-quality Tuscan olive oils like this one should have. Because it’s raw, Middle Earth olive oil is relatively high in polyphenol antioxidants. In fact, a cool thing about the Middle Earth olive oil is that it comes in a corked, dark glass bottle that protects the antioxidants from light damage and oxidization. A statement from Middle Earth claims, “Most olive oil is packaged in clear glass, causing its polyphenol quality to quickly dissipate, severely limiting its antioxidant action and making it technically ‘dead’ after a mere six months, ours will remain ‘alive’ for over 24 months.” I especially like this oil for dipping bread in because I like to experience the flavor of the olive oil on its own. Look out bread and butter; Middle Earth is about to school you in taste.

Lucini Italia

Lucini Italia, our other new line of extra virgin olive oil, is made from estate-grown olives from a region south of Florence, Italy. We have conventional and organic varieties, both of which are also certified kosher. Compared to Middle Earth, the Lucinis are a bit lighter in texture, but still have a deep buttery flavor. They also have a milder (yet still distinctive) peppery quality in the back of your throat. I prefer the Lucini for drizzling on salads and other vegetables because its flavor doesn’t compete as much as a stronger olive oil’s would. I even used a little in some blueberry pancakes (a tip I picked up from Maintenance Coordinator Jim Jirous), and they were some of the best I’ve ever had. The olive and blueberry flavors compliment each other surprisingly well and give the pancakes a bolder presence on your palette.

Great Pasta Salad Recipe

The following is my recipe for a great pasta salad. I like pasta salad because it can be made a day ahead of when you need it (in fact, this is the best way to go because it allows the flavors to mingle over night), and it is served cold, which makes it great for picnics, barbecues, potlucks, etc. This recipe is meant as a party-sized serving, but can be cut in half for more intimate gatherings.

Ingredients:

1 lb. rotini pasta (really any pasta can be used, but I find that rotini spirals absorb more flavor than other types)

1/4 tsp. cup extra virgin olive oil

2-3 (or to taste) Tbs. balsamic vinegar

2-3 sprigs fresh dill leaf

1 Tbs. chopped shallots

sea salt/pepper to taste

3/4 cup raw broccoli florets (can be lightly blanched if you prefer, but I find that the vinegar in the dressing does a good job of softening the broccoli if you leave it overnight)

1/2 cup chopped sweet red bell pepper

1 cup snap peas

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1-2 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley for garnish

Directions: Cook the pasta ahead of time so that it has time to cool before you add it to the other ingredients. In a large bowl mix the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, shallots, dill, salt and pepper with a whisk. This will be the dressing for the salad. Next, add the broccoli, peapods, and red pepper, and toss gently until the dressing is soaked in and coating everything. The pasta goes in next, but mix it gently with your hands so that it doesn’t break apart. Last are the halved cherry tomatoes. These are delicate, so use finesse. When everything is mixed, cover the bowl with a lid or some plastic wrap and place in the fridge until ready to serve. I usually add the chopped parsley just before presentation for added color and fresh flavor.

A great variation on this dish is to use pesto in place of the vinaigrette I described. I haven’t tried it, but I’m sure our new olive oils would be awesome in pesto.

All of packaged Grocery’s extra virgin olive oils can be found in aisle four across from the baking set. Enjoy!