Photo: Thomas J. Story
Joanne Weir trained in the butter-and-cream world of traditional French cooking, but her heart and her skillet belong to the Mediterranean. Weir's must-have ingredient: extra-virgin olive oil. "I love anything that's olive oil–based, so Mediterranean is just a cuisine I relate to," she says. When she returned stateside, Weir's first job was in Berkeley at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse. She brought her beloved olive oil along, too. "We in America think about a huge steak in the center of the plate. I like a small amount of protein and lots of vegetables on the side. I love to fill up on vegetables." Here, the author of From Tapas to Meze: Small Plates from the Mediterranean offers up some of her favorite ways to incorporate olive oil.
JOANNE'S TOP 5 TIPS
- Love your veggies. "Olive oil and a pinch of salt make vegetables sing. One of my favorite things to do, and it's a great make-ahead food, is to take whatever vegetables are in season and blanch them separately until they're tender but still a little crisp. Right before serving, I put a little olive oil in a pan, maybe a tablespoon, and then throw the vegetables in with a little mint and some lemon zest—it's fabulous!"
- Rock the vinaigrettes. "To me, olive oil just has the most incredible flavor, and I wouldn't think of using any other kind of oil on a salad. To make a good vinaigrette, use either a two- or three-to-one ratio, meaning two or three tablespoons of olive oil to one tablespoon of fruit juice or vinegar—like orange, lime, or lemon juice, or Champagne, white wine, or red wine vinegar—depending on how tart you like the flavor. Because it's much sweeter and has less acid, balsamic vinegar works at a two-to-one ratio."
- Go for the good stuff. "I only use extra-virgin olive oil—it has the most incredible flavor."
- Salmon is a sure thing. "One of my favorite techniques for cooking salmon is to use extra-virgin olive oil—but not my most expensive kind—and pour just a thin film of it in a nonstick pan. I warm the oil until it's hot but not smoking. Then I add the salmon and cook it on both sides until it's golden and crispy, probably only about six minutes total for a piece of fish that's about an inch thick. It's crispy, it's juicy inside, and it's wonderful."
- Embrace the avocado. "I don't feel bad about eating good fats in my diet. I know people who say, 'Guacamole is too fattening!' Those same people would rather eat a brownie instead. I'd much rather have that avocado."