Julia Busuttil Nishimura says the one thing she never scrimps on is excellent extra-virgin olive oil. “Whether it’s for cooking, in baking or to top a plate of pasta or a salad – good quality, fresh extra-virgin olive oil is essential in the kitchen,” says the passionate Melbourne home cook and author. “In my family we always joke that olive oil runs through our veins.”
Rather than confining it to the cooking process, a glug added to a finished dish instantly elevates it. “A drizzle onto a plate of pasta completely lifts and brightens the dish … Olive oil amplifies the flavours of the food and really just makes everything delicious. As long as you have a good oil that is. A rancid, old oil will completely ruin your efforts,” she says.
Busuttil Nishimura, who has written two cook books, Ostro and the recently released A Year of Simple Family Food, says to find the best oil at the supermarket, check out its harvest date. Unlike a fine wine, oil doesn’t mature with age – it deteriorates.
“Look for harvest or pressing dates on bottles rather than expiry or the ‘best before’ date, which really doesn’t tell you much,” she says. “Once I have a bottle, I keep it in a dark place and use it as soon as possible.”
Olive oil is seasonal, so you could follow Busuttil Nishimura’s lead and switch between Australian and Italian extra-virgin olive oils as the season progresses.
She adds that, sometimes, you should also go rogue. “Often in baking you’re told to use a neutral vegetable oil, but extra-virgin oil imparts an amazing mouthfeel and gives an added depth of flavour.”
And if a recipe calls for one to two teaspoons of oil for cooking, ignore it and instead use four to six, especially if you are making something like a soffritto (the holy trinity of onion, carrot and celery that forms the base of so many Mediterranean and South American dishes). “It may seem like a lot, but starting off with enough oil ensures ingredients cook happily without drying out.”
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