Friday, September 18, 2009

Oil be back

The house of H'n'H is riddled with extra virgin olive oil after a taste test which was in the paper bit of the Guardian, but too flimsy to go online, a couple of days ago. We've got some in the cupboard, some on the spice shelf (which is feeling a bit sticky after an apple sauce fermentation incident) and the overflow in the wine rack. Even in my pregnancy-enforced sober state, it looks very exciting until you get closer and realise that the lovely bottles are not the habitat of fine wine. It reminds me of the much-bandied notion that when wine writers call in to see other wine writers, they take a bottle of interesting oil. Killjoys.

Even after donating some to my sister's new home food fund (she moves in today), much oil remains. This means that for once, I won't feel horribly profligate doing what I was taught to do at cookery school at Ballymaloe, which is to fry everything (everything suitable, that is: not porridge) in extra virgin olive oil.

In my tiny mind, I know that the heat destroys the delicate flavours of, say, Castillo de Canena's banana-inflected First Early Royal (pretentious, olive oil?) but I can't shake the memory of the marvellous, headstrong, slightly crazy Darina Allen, a whirlwind in class and out of it, insisting that the only olive oil used for cooking on her premises would be extra virgin.

She wouldn't use it anywhere the strong flavour might cause havoc - in the mayo we made over and over again, for example - but three years on the smell of a pan of warming olive oil, perhaps ready to fry the onions for Diana Henry's chicken with chorizo and rice (you'll have to buy the book) takes me back to the Ballymaloe school kitchens. As they say about things far more dramatic than three months piddling around cooking in the company of pleasant but overprivileged teenagers, it was the best of times and the worst of times. And it certainly was oily.

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