As the frantoi are beginning to wind down after a month of non-stop olive pressing , people all across Italy are enjoying this year’s olio nuovo. Its unfiltered, spiced finish is hard to match, and makes a great addition to almost any bruschetta, pasta dish, or simply cooked meat. However, the olio nuovo‘s bite is fleeting, lasting through the holidays at best, before it begins to soften and mellow out. Alongside it in my pantry I like to have some infused oils of my own to complement particular dishes. An olio piccante is always on hand and usually one or two others, depending on the season.
Over the spring and summer I had basil olive oil that was great drizzled over a simple caprese or as the final touch to a spaghetti al pomodoro. This fall I’ve had a hearty rosemary olive oil on hand that I recently drizzled over a liver sausage ragu with truffle polenta.
Now, how to make them.
The simplest way to make an infusion is by leaving whatever you wish to infuse in the bottom of the olive oil bottle for a few weeks. This process takes a little longer than I like to wait, and also doesn’t leave you with very intense flavors. By heating the oil you help release all the essential oils (where the flavor comes from) in your ingredient of choice. You need to be careful not to heat the oil too much as it will be begin to denature, or breakdown, and lose its own characteristics.
The recipe below is for my spicy olive oil, olio piccante, but the same steps can be followed for just about any infusion you’d like to make.
1 liter extra virgin olive oil
25 dried peperoncini
1. In a medium sized pot heat the oil very slowly over low heat to around 100°C (212°F). At this point add the chili peppers to the pot and let them soak, keeping the flame at the absolute lowest possible setting for about 15 minutes, stirring every now and then.
2. After 15 minutes turn the flame off and allow the oil to cool before straining it and pouring it back into the bottle.
3. For a spicier version you can chop the peperoncini before adding them to the oil and then leave them in the bottle for a few days after the original heating. Make sure to taste it as you go along because this will leave you with an oil that packs a serious punch.