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Extra virgin olive oil (Recipe: tangerine and feta salad) {vegetarian, gluten-free}


When I think back to how I lost my extra virginity, I have to laugh.

Confronted with so many choices of extra virgin olive oil at my favorite Italian market in Boston, I panicked, grabbed one bottle off the shelf, and fled with my ignorance.

Thirty years later, drafting a program of cooking classes to host in my Rhode Island kitchen, I added "Olive Oil Tasting" to my list. Why not, I thought, sample oils from Spain, Greece, Australia and the United States, as well as from Italy? Why not, I thought, compare color, aroma and viscosity?

Why not, indeed.

Why didn't I think of that years ago?


I grew up in the days before the Mediterranean diet was the Mediterranean diet, before we knew about the health benefits of olive oil, and before the rest of us who didn't grow up in Italian or Greek families realized how delicious and versatile it is.

Versatile, yes. All-purpose? No. If you are a fan of certain cooking shows, you'll see eee-vee-oh-oh used to cook, slather and drizzle on almost everything. But one oil does not fit all.

Made by the first pressing of olives, extra virgin olive oil depends heavily upon the variety of the fruit and the terroir (the soil, water, air)  for its flavor and body. The taste can be green and grassy, bright and fruity, mild or even a bit sharp. The color, too, ranges from pale gold to bright green.

In my pantry I keep several olive oils, all labeled "extra virgin". My favorite, Nuñez de Prado, comes from a family farm in Spain; it's the oil I prefer for salads, when I want to taste every single drop, and for drizzling on cheese. I also have smaller sampling bottles of Greek and Australian oils, which lend their unique flavors to fish and roasted vegetables.

Once opened, extra virgin olive oil will keep for six months in a cool, dry pantry, or for up to a year in the refrigerator. If you store it in the fridge, it will become cloudy, so be sure to leave it at room temperature for a few hours before you use it.

Are you ready to find your favorite? Tasting is the only way. Some restaurants and gourmet markets host olive oil tastings, so watch for those. Or, why not host your own olive oil tasting? Start with one of the samplers on the market, and add a few supermarket oils for comparison (some of them might surprise you). Or, for the ultimate extra virginity, treat yourself to membership in the Zingerman's Rare Olive Oil Club.


Tangerine and feta salad

Improvise with any greens, fruit and cheese you have on hand. Serves 2, for lunch, with a bowl of soup.


3 cups mixed lettuces
1/2 tangerine, peeled and diced
Handful of blueberries or blackberries
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp tangerine juice (from the remaining half of the fruit)
1-2 drops of agave nectar, to taste
Pinch of fresh black pepper


Combine the lettuces, diced tangerine, berries and cheese in a serving bowl. In a small jar, combine remaining ingredients, and shake well to emulsify the dressing. Drizzle dressing over the salad, and serve.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Roasted fennel with potatoes and onions
Pizza bianca
Fennel, pear and olive salad
Marinated bocconcini
Roasted vegetables with yogurt and fresh tomato sauce

Need more ideas for how to create salads with pizzazz? Get Dress Up Your Salad, my e-book packed with easy mix-and-match recipes, full-color photos and a few fun videos. Exciting salad recipes from everyday ingredients can be just one click away, on any computer, tablet or smart phone, with the FREE Kindle Reading app. Click here to learn more.

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We're from the same era, that's for sure!

The different olive oils are so confusing to me--an olive oil tasting sounds like an excellent idea. I've been making variations of this salad for the last few weeks from my CSA lettuces and greens--they sure are good.

The Nunez looks like a bottle of fine brandy or cognac -- is it as expensive?

Lydia -- great post! Especially the note that EVOO is not as all-purpose as RR makes it out to be. Remind me to tell you about my olive oil class experiences -- I've been both a participant and an instructor. And can I pre-register for your class?

I love each and every ingredient in this salad, Lydia. And I always keep a bottle with a few basil sprigs inside (the one I grow myself) - it is wonderful drizzled over so many dishes, especially tomato salads and pizzas. YUM!

I love extra virgin olive oil. Whenever I head to my local ethnic markets I try different kinds each time. My favorite way to eat a good oil is drizzled on fresh pasta with a sprinkle of cheese or for dipping bread in.

That first line had me laughing! hee hee

I keep two different kinds of olive oil on hand, one for drizzling and another for cooking. I agree about the Trader Joe's olive oil; it is very serviceable and gets daily use in our kitchen. The fancy stuff is saved for company and special occasions.

I loved that first line, too! ;) What a great idea for a class! My son & I tried a flavored oil at a local market a few weeks ago..blood orange EVOO. It was so yummy just drizzled on a little slice of bread.

Hi Lydia,

I don't have much pantry space at all, so I tend to just keep a big bottle of the Trader Joe's EVOO on the shelf. I've indulged a few times and bought Zoe EVOO, which has a much brighter, greener flavor. As I've told you, though, I am lucky enough to live right by Zingerman's, and they often offer samples of supremely delicious EVOO, so I've tried a few. My favorite is Spanish.

Gorgeous salad.

what? you're in RI? so am I!

Love the first line and thanks Lydia for the recipe anything with feta is a must have for me.
I have 4 types of EVOO two are from Spain and two are Italian. The cheaper of the Spanish oils I use to pack stuff like peppers. For the other oils it just depends on what I am cooking. There is a distributor of French foods called Nicole’s which is about a half mile away. They will often have Olive Oil tastings. What I have taken away from the experience is a better understanding of the types of oils that are out there and what would work best for me. I have to be honest here but the oils at Nicole’s are a bit too steep for my purse, but I have found cheaper oils that have pretty much the taste and functions that will work for me.

The salad looks exquisite, the ingredients superb and hey, it's gotta be good with Feta in it!

I just came over from Blue Kitchen... You were just bookmarked. Great blog with amazing recipes.

Joan, this oil cost $28 so yes, it's expensive, but I use it sparingly, as I'm not fond of oily salads, so the bottle lasts quite a while.

Chiot's Run, bread dipped in olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and crunchy black pepper, is as good as it gets, and I could make a meal of it.

Bridget, Deena, Kim: You're so right to take advantage of olive oil tastings. Lots of markets are doing them now, and it's the best way to discover your favorite oils.

Beautiful salad, and I want some of that olive oil now! Maybe when the remodeling is over if I still have $28 left! (That was a joke, but not totally!)

Oh now I have olive oil lush. I may just have to make an extra trip for this for the company tomorrow night. I have been experimenting a little and this will be most welcome.

Oh it's so pur-tee...just lovely!

One of the things I miss about Andorra is the variety and cheapness of the olive oil - from Spain. Whenever we go to visit I stock up, for cooking, buying 5 litre cans. And a few bottles of the good stuff...

I love the idea of an olive oil tasting! I saw Giada de Laurentis make a dish in which she called for a "fruity" olive oil. I was stumped - how do you know which oil is fruity? You can't even smell them, much less taste them! I stood in the olive oil section of Wegman's for quite a while before choosing one. It was fine - but it made me realize how little I know. I had an informal tasting with two of my sons and one of their friends, all of whom are into cooking. It was interesting, but not definitive - there are so many olive oils!

Your salad looks incredible! I would so LOVE to go to an olive oil tasting! Such a cool idea!!!

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