A little while ago I was reading Aussie chef Neil Perry’s beautiful book, Food I Love. Among the many tips and insights into Neils cooking mind, he mentioned that he always uses the best quality olive oil for cooking.
Now I’ve long been a believer that the heat of cooking changes the aroma and flavour of the oil so that the subtle complexity of expensive oil is lost. And have always used cheaper oil for anything involving heat and saved my best oil for drizzling at the end. According to Mr Perry, I was doing it all wrong. And I was sacrificing the lovely flavour that would still come through in the dish.
I was skeptical, maybe one of Australia’s best chefs knew a few things that I didn’t. So I decided to experiment and cook up 2 batches of caramelised onions with a cheap and an expensive oil. First, I did a little taste test of the oils straight from the bottle:
_________________EXPENSIVE OIL_____________CHEAP OIL
description:_______extra virgin_______________extra virgin
flavour:___________fresh, grassy, bright_______fruity, olivey, ripe
mouthfeel:________light, crisp & fresh_________heavy, oily, flat
Overall, the oils were about as different as olive oils could be.
But when it came time to taste the caramelised onion cooked with the 2 different oils, it was a completely new situation. If I tried really hard I could just detect a slight difference in sweetness but overall, they tasted identical – all the subtleties of the expensive oil were gone, no grassiness in sight. And the cheaper oil had completely lost it’s pungent fruitiness. It all just tasted like sweet sweet onions.
So there you have it. If you’re cooking with oil, there’s no benefit from using the expensive oil. Heat DOES make a big difference. It’s totally not worth paying extra if you’re going to be subjecting the oil to heat. You’ve got to love a bit of kitchen experimentation.
egg noodles with cavalo nero & caramelised onion
This is the perfect thing when you feel like some pasta comfort but want to keep it healthy and get some greens.
Any pasta or noodle would be fine with this, but I do love the bright colour you get from pasta made with eggs. Homemade would be lovely but I was pretty happy with the dried egg pasta I used for the photo.
For a vegan version use pasta made from just flour and instead of the cheese toss through a small handful of toasted pinenuts or almonds.
Cavalo nero, also known as Tuscan black cabbage is one of my favourite greens with it rich earthiness but you could use any green you like. Kale would be wonderful as would silverbeet, spinach, or even baby spinach.
2 large brown onions, peeled & halved lengthwise
1 bunch cavalo nero or other greens, roughly chopped
150g (5oz) egg noodles
handful grated parmesan, to serve
Finely slice onions into little half moons. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a medium saucepan and cook onion, covered, over a medium-low heat. Stir every 5 minutes or so to stop it burning too much. The idea is to get soft, melting caramelised onions. It’s going to take about 30 minutes or even up to 45minutes. Patience is needed.
Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan salted water to the boil.
When the onions are caramelised, add greens and continue to cook covered, but stirring every few minutes, until the greens are just wilted. Keep warm.
Cook pasta until al dente or how you like it. Drain.
Add pasta to the greens and onions and toss. Taste and season, adding a little squeeze of lemon juice, to taste. Serve with parmesan.
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