Pace da Poggio Etrusco Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Eggplant with Roasted Tomatoes, Baked Ricotta and Herbs
Man has cultivated the olive tree for thousands of years. The Roman Empire depended on olive oil for everything from perfumes and personal hygiene to cooking and lighting.
Rome’s oil came from the far flung parts of the Empire, and the terra cotta containers that held it, known as amphorae, were inscribed with tituli picti, markings that certified the oil’s place of origin, owner, weight and other particulars. The Romans knew where their oil came from and you should too. How can the average consumer, inexpert at discerning the quality of oil he or she is purchasing, get good oil? I have said it before. Either know your grower or know your seller. Fortunately for me, I know both. Among a box of oils I received for review from Olio2go, one of the country’s largest sellers of Italian extra virgin olive oil was a tin of liquid gold, Pace da Poggio Etrusco Extra Virgin Olive Oil made by Pamela Sheldon Johns.
Pamela is a well known food writer, cookbook author, and cooking teacher. With her husband, artist Johnny Johns she operates Poggio Etrusco bed and breakfast and working farm in Montepulciano, Tuscany. On her organic certified farm property she grows the Moraiolo, Leccino, Correggiolo, and Pendolino olives that go into the oil. In November it is time for la raccolta delle olive, the olive harvest, when Pamela, her family and crew, and even guests, pick the fruit (yes, olives are fruit) entirely by hand. The careful harvesting, free of rakes and machines, assures that the fruit reaches the frantoio, the olive pressing mill, unbruised and in good condition, resulting in a pure, fresh tasting oil. Pamela’s hands on approach to the manufacture of her oil is a mixture of science, hard work, and respect for tradition and the earth.
I first tasted Pace da Poggio Etrusco oil last fall in Pamela’s cooking class at Let’s Get Cookin’ in Westlake, California. After a discussion of her philosophy of making oil, she passed small glasses of it around for us to sample.
The remarkably clean taste, redolent of olives, and beautiful golden green color impressed the entire room. The oil is low in acid, a trait of extra virgin oil, with a very pleasant bit of pizzico, the famous peppery burn at the back of one’s throat. Pizzico is not a flaw. It is in fact a prized characteristic of Tuscan olive oil. Some makers achieve it by picking their olives when they are slightly underripe. In Pamela’s oil it comes from the perfectly ripe Corregiolo olives she uses.
This oil is meant to be used as a condimento, a topping or dressing, rather than to saute or roast. Swirl a bit into soup just before service or try it with Pinzimonio, the classic Tuscan raw vegetable platter for a starter or light lunch. Raw peppers, tiny asparagus and baby rainbow carrots make a beautiful presentation for the dish. Toss the oil with hot pasta and the floral notes and bay will come forward. Get into the Italian habit of drizzling oil over roasted foods, both meat and vegetables, to enhance their flavors.
One final note about olive oil is that like wine, the only way to learn about it is to consume it. I can not emphasize strongly enough that you should start with a fine oil such as Pace da Poggio Etrusco. Once you have tasted this oil, you will find it much easier to discern beastly from best.
Eggplant with Roasted Tomatoes, Baked Ricotta and Herbs
serves about 8, 1 round per person
Grilled eggplant topped with warm baked ricotta and sweet as candy roasted tomatoes is a beautiful summertime antipasto. Use your favorite oil to prepare the eggplant and tomatoes, and use Pace da Poggio Etrusco Extra Virgin Olive Oil to finish this dish, drizzling it over the tomato topped eggplant rounds. Complete the dish with chopped herbs.
24-30 multicolored teardrop or cherry tomatoes
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese, drained
1 large egg
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Toscano
1 teaspoon each, finely chopped parsley, rosemary, thyme and nepitella*
kosher salt and pepper
Pace da Poggio Etrusco Extra Virgin Olive Oil to finish
For the eggplant
Slice the eggplant into ½ inch rounds and place on a sheet pan. Sprinkle both sides with kosher salt. Set aside for 25-30 minutes, or until you see the moisture beading on the surface. Blot the eggplant with a clean lint free towel. Oil and preheat a grill pan. Grill the eggplant over medium heat, 10 to 12 minutes per side.
For the baked ricotta and tomatoes
Coat a 10 ounce ramekin with oil. Combine ricotta, egg, Pecorino Toscano, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Transfer mixture to ramekin. Place the ramekin in the oven along with the tomatoes and bake until puffed, about 25 minutes.
Adjust the oven rack to the center and preheat to 400 degrees F. Place the tomatoes on a sheet pan. Toss the tomatoes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Roast them until they are slightly softened and heated through, but still retain their shape, about 20 minutes, tossing once or twice.
Place eggplant rounds on a platter. Distribute the baked ricotta over the eggplant. Top each round with a few tomatoes, scattering the remaining tomatoes on the platter. Drizzle with Pace da Poggio Etrusco Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and top with chopped herbs. Serve.
Food Nerd Notes:
Nepitella, a wild herb indigenous to Tuscany and Umbria, is nature’s complement to the Poggio Etrusco oil. The oregano and mint notes of the Nepitella blend beautifully with the fruit and pepper of the Poggio Etrusco oil. For more on Nepitella and sources for plants and seeds, click here.
Pace da Poggio Etrusco Extra Virgin Olive Oil is available online from Olio2go, 8400 Hilltop Road, Suite H, Fairfax, VA 22031 866-Olio2go (866-654-6246) It is supplied in 500 ml. stainless steel tins. The cost is $32.95, plus shipping.
Cucina Povera, Pamela’s book of traditional Tuscan peasant cooking is also available from Olio2go. Click here to read my review.
Note: You can click on any picture for a slide show!
Disclosure: I received the product mentioned above for free. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I otherwise have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.