So, startling revelation in the kitchen Chez Stephens this week. By the way, this is a sponsored post for the Collective Bias® Social Fabric® community, but I only work with products I love, so no need to fret about my opinions being purchased or the mob trying to keep me quiet!
First, background: I really love cooking with the wide variety of oils available on the market, and really haven’t kept canola or vegetable oil in the house in ages except for the sole purpose of my husband stove popping popcorn, which is divine. Although I enjoy using grapeseed and sesame oils in the kitchen, I predominantly use olive oil for everyday cooking rather than butter or margarine. I keep it stove-side in a nifty metal pourer, because I’m now older and wiser and have finished my flings with those sprayers and pour spouts, all of which clog. But I digress.
I was aware that varying oils are best for varying uses in the kitchen, based on factors such as their flavor and smoke point (the temperature at which the oil starts to break down, smoke and change in taste) and even health considerations. However, I didn’t understand that pairing particular olive oils with specific dishes is as much of an art as food and wine pairings.
California-based STAR Fine Foods has created a line of Usage Pairing Oils, all of which are single varietal extra virgin olive oils. I think this point is pertinent because there has been some fuss about imported olive oils being mixed and of lower quality but labeled extra virgin. Also, I have to share this from the STAR website – I love knowing the background on the companies and products we use, and found it charming that the company’s brand comes from the founding Giurlani family who began importing and distributing olive oil in 1898 in San Francisco, and chose the STAR brand to show their American patriotism.
Back to the oils: the line of Usage Pairing Oils is really interesting, and includes an EVOO for vegetables made from the first pressing of arbequina olives. STAR describes it as having a “very smooth, slightly almond flavor, with touches of green apple and an aroma that is reminiscent of the fresh, green smell of olives in their prime of maturity.” Count me in.
The intent of the STAR Arbequina EVOO is specifically to enhance vegetables and salads without being overpowering. As a vegetarian, I was pleased to find an oil perfect for dressing my salads and even pastas. I often throw some of the Arbequina oil on top of whole wheat penne topped with some crumbled gorgonzola and cracked pepper as an ideal lunch. I picked mine up at Walmart in preparation for the giant “winter weather event” of 2013 while everyone else was grabbing milk and bread.
The other two oils in the line are a Hojiblanca Extra Virgin Olive Oil that pairs well with fish and white meats and a Picual Extra Virgin Olive Oil for red meat such as beef and lamb. I love that it is described as “audacious and intense, with a marked personality” and is ideal with these hearty meals just like a bottle of red wine.
All the oils are gluten-free, and they are such a great, healthy alternative to cooking with butter or margarine. Pick up any of these STAR Usage Pairing Oils at Walmart, or hop over to the STAR Facebook page where there is a giveaway running for a complete set! It’s also worthwhile to follow STAR on Twitter and Pinterest, because they post recipes and often share tips and giveaways. Ok, so enough carrying on about the oils. Here’s what I did with them:
Gorgonzola Pasta with Kale & Baby Bellas
- 2 – 3 tablespoons STAR Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 generous tablespoons chopped garlic
- 1 teaspoon mixed Italian seasoning, or a combination of oregano, marjoram, basil and thyme
- Generous portions (to taste) of freshly ground salt and pepper
- 1 cup chopped portabella or similar mushrooms
- 4 oz (1 small can) chopped black olives (or a STAR olive pouch!)
- 2 oz (1/2 tube) tomato paste
- Two diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 container crumbled gorgonzola
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- Whole wheat penne pasta
- 1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans
This is an easy-peasy and very satisfying winter meal. Just add the garlic, seasoning and mushrooms to the olive oil and sauté until the mushrooms look so delicious you want to eat them by hand. Add the chopped black olives for a few minutes, and then the tomatoes, tomato paste and wine – stir constantly while simmering to incorporate the flavors. Meanwhile, cook the penne pasta to just barely al dente. Add the gorgonzola and give it a few minutes to start melting and begin stirring in the cream, continuing to stir constantly.
Toast the pecans in the oven for about five minutes to make them fragrant and extra tasty. Additional cream, cheese, tomato paste and wine may be added to the sauce to reach your desired consistency – ours ends up a nice salmon color with a little extra wine and tomato paste, but we don’t go too heavy on the cream since it’s very rich.
At the last minute, add the kale and stir until incorporated and slightly wilted but still fresh looking. Drain the pasta thoroughly and stir into the sauce and serve topped with fresh cracked pepper and the toasted pecans. Tip: I always make more pasta than needed so I can serve it topped with gorgonzola or parmesan and STAR Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil – the perfect next day lunch!
Don’t forget to enter the Usage Pairings Oil set giveaway on the STAR Facebook page!