Ink: July 2014

Book reviews by Molly Kincaid.

July 1, 2014

InkIssue 7: July/August 2014

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil

By Tom Mueller

(Norton, 2013)

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil By Tom Mueller (Norton, 2013)

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil By Tom Mueller (Norton, 2013)

When a food item has only one ingredient listed on its bottle, you might assume that’s exactly what’s inside. Read Extra Virginity and that assumption will go straight out the window. Tom Mueller’s extensive investigations reveal that olive oil, even if labeled “extra virgin,” is very often cut with cheaper, less healthful seed oils and nut oils (primarily hazelnut oil) and passed off as the real thing. Other times, low-quality olive oil—dubbed “lampante,” or lamp oil, in Italy—is improved by a stomach-turning process called “deodorization,” supposedly cleansing the cheapo oil of its unpleasant, bland, fatty flavors.

Because these adulterations often escape chemical testing, and because European authorities often acquiesce to oil fraud, the problem has become extremely widespread. The result is that 69 percent of supermarket extra virgins surveyed “had taste flaws such as rancid, fusty, and musty, which meant that they weren’t extra virgin at all, and had been mislabeled,” writes Mueller. He chronicles a small-scale oil-maker in Italy who subjected 31 bottles of store-bought olive oil to rigorous taste testing, and came up with only one that he deemed pure. The others, including bottles from large producers like Bertolli and Carapelli, were deemed unfit for human consumption. It makes you wonder if you’ve ever even tasted real olive oil like that Mueller describes sampling in the rocky hills of Italy—the bright, intensely green flavors in a gulp of freshly pressed oil.

In addition to his thorough investigation of the olive oil industry, Mueller narrates the illustrious history of olive oil. For ancient Greeks, olive oil was an integral part of athletics and hygiene—athletes slathered their bodies with oil to perform, while men and women anointed themselves with oil perfumed with herbs. Monastic holy men used oil to cure anything from violent impulses and sexual urges to kidney stones, leprosy, blindness, and seizures.

Mueller can only guess as to why the same regions that produce fine wines—a highly regulated delicacy—are so lackadaisical about tolerating blatant and endemic fraud in the realm of oil. But he artfully explores the divergent ways in which wine and olive oil have evolved over time. Grapes give juices readily, and their wine makes us feel woozy and exhilarated, he explains, but olives must be coaxed of their oil, and their effects on our bodies are far more subtle. “Wine is how we would like life to be, but oil is how life is: fruity, pungent, with a hint of complex bitterness—extra virginity’s elusive triad.”

Whole Grain Mornings: New Breakfast Recipes to Span the Seasons

By Megan Gordon

(Ten Speed Press, 2013)


Whole Grain Mornings: New Breakfast Recipes to Span the Seasons By Megan Gordon (Ten Speed Press, 2013)

A sweet morning treat doesn’t have to be a stack of pancakes smothered in syrup or a hulking cinnamon bun that will send you straight back to bed for a nap—no, a whole grain porridge studded with nuts and dried fruits might satisfy that same craving. If you are a sweets-for-breakfast kind of person, Whole-Grain Mornings will set you on a path to righteousness—and deliciousness.

Megan Gordon, a writer for the food blog The Kitchn and her own blog, A Sweet Spoonful, knows how to strike the perfect balance between salty and sweet. And she manages to be healthy without being militant or cutting anything out completely. “I don’t fear fat. I eat eggs, drink whole milk, and eat full-fat yogurt,” she writes. “I do, however, really limit sugar, which leaves me feeling tired and down.”

Gordon also embraces whole grains. If you think breakfast grains are limited to oats and whole wheat, get ready to expand your horizons and your cupboard. Her Triple-Coconut Porridge features quinoa; her Warm Farro Breakfast bowl is a riot of fruity sweetness and nutty crunch. Her Spiced Bulgur Porridge with Dates, Almonds, and Golden Raisins will sustain you all day long—the only sweetener is the dates, which melt satisfyingly into the bulgur. Bonus: Most of her recipes can be made in big batches on the weekend and reheated for quick weekday breakfasts.

In short, if you’re in a breakfast rut, this cookbook has you covered. And, it is by no means limited to sweet. The savory recipes are as delicious and creative as they are dead simple. Come summer, Gordon’s Zucchini Farro Cakes with Herbed Goat Cheese and Roasted Tomatoes will be on heavy rotation in my kitchen. The Greens and Grains Scramble is a delicious way to use up CSA scraps in any season, while Bacon and Kale Polenta Squares are perfect to serve up to brunch guests—perhaps with a freshly poached egg.

One Good Dish

By David Tanis

(Artisan, 2013)

One Good Dish By David Tanis (Artisan, 2013)

One Good Dish By David Tanis (Artisan, 2013)

I have a feeling David Tanis had trouble coming up with a name  for this book, eventually settling on this somewhat bland one, belying the über-imaginative recipes therein. Though to be fair, I couldn’t come up with anything better myself—only “food I desperately want to cook,” or “Oh my God, yum.”

The collection of recipes is somewhat random, and yet perfect. Because you don’t want to eat food in the same vein every night, and Tanis knows this. He sets no limits on the “type” of cuisine or origin of influence, mixing styles among and even within many recipes. Wok-Fried Lamb with Cumin weaves Middle Eastern flavors into a traditionally Chinese dish, which Tanis writes was inspired by a Chinese neighborhood in Flushing, Queens. Speckled Sushi Rice with Nori makes an unexpected and refreshing cocktail snack, with freshly pickled ginger alongside. With another spin around the globe, the Swiss Chard al Forno is distinctly Italian, and its outrageous creaminess makes you wonder whether you’ll ever cook chard any other way. Mexican Corn and Squash Blossom soup is an Oaxacan-inspired greenmarket treasure for summertime.

As an experienced chef who writes for the New York Times dining section and author of several cookbooks, Tanis doesn’t shy away from expressing his true feelings about food trends. “Not to sound cranky, but to say that I am baffled by the current craze for eating raw kale is an understatement. And kale chips? Barbecue-flavored kale? Do enlighten me,” he writes. But then, it’s hard to rebut his argument against raw kale when confronted with the deep, smoky broth that envelops his Long-Cooked Kale, a flavor base built around Spanish chorizo or slab bacon, onions, and sherry vinegar.

Molly Kincaid is a Tucsonan who is obsessed with tinkering in the kitchen and reading cookbooks. Her favorite foods are, paradoxically, kale and pork belly.

Previous Post

Dream Renewed

Next Post

Booze News: July 2014