EVERYTHING BEGINS WITH OLIVE OIL
Every homemaker can cook delicious Spanish dishes. With adequate cooking skills, clearly –written recipes and the right ingredients, anyone can whip up traditional dishes like cocido, tortilla de patatas and paella in the comfort of one’s home. For the busy cook, there are simple recipes like ensaladas, sopas and tapas that are quick to prepare but very filling.
Olive oil or aceite de oliva is a MUST in Spanish cooking. Aceite, meaning the juice of the olive, is Spanish for oil. Spain, Italy and Greece produce 75% of the olive oil used all over the world. Spain may be the biggest producer but Italy is the largest exporter. Italy imports olive oil from its neighbors, repacks and rebrands these as Italian Olive Oil, and exports to many countries in America and Asia. The Italians introduced olive oil through the conquests of the Roman Empire.
Olive oil is simply the oil extracted from crushed olives. The olive tree is among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world. They are native to the Mediterranean Basin with the wild olive tree said to have originated from ancient Greece. They say that the first recorded oil extraction is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and was said to have taken place during the Hebrew exodus from Egypt in the 13th century. The Roman Empire brought the olive to other areas of the world and introduced it to other cultures and cuisines. It was used for cooking, for anointing in baptismal and other religious rites, and as a health tonic.
The olive fruit can be harvested in two ways – through a slower method of hand picking or through the popular method called vareo, which is beating the branches of the tree with long rods to make the berries fall. Ripe olives are black and have the highest oil content, from 20 to 30% of the fresh fruit’s total weight. The green olives are the unripe olives. After harvest, the fruits are washed then crushed. The olive mass is then pressed to squeeze out the oil.