Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Frances Mayes brings the flavor of Tuscany home for the holidays

Author and cookbook writer Frances Mayes will be the guest speaker at the 7 p.m. Wednesday meeting of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOPNC) at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. The presentation will include samplings of her freshly pressed Bramasole Olive Oil. The event is free and open to the public.

Frances Mayes (Photo by John Gillooly)
While it may be wrong to judge a book by its cover, Frances Mayes says it’s not a bad idea to judge an unfamiliar olive oil by its price.

“In American cooking, olive oil is still the most mysterious and misunderstood ingredient,” says Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun and, with her husband Edward Mayes, last year’s The Tuscan Sun Cookbook. “Italians would never consider using most of what passes for olive oil here.”
Mayes should know. She and her husband have spent much of the past 23 years living on their Bramasole estate in Tuscany, where they tend a grove of 600 olive trees on about 10 acres of rolling land. A 500 ml bottle of their small-batch oil sells for about $30 – if you’re fast enough to order some before it sells out.

“It you haven’t tasted freshly pressed olive oil, you can’t imagine how different it is,” says Mayes, who likens the unadulterated result to heady fruit juice. “When it comes gushing from the press, it looks just like melted emeralds. It has a little kick at the back of your throat for a nice peppery finish.”
Fresh-pressed Bremasole Olive Oil
streams in brilliant green torrents that
Mayes likens to "melted emeralds."
Mayes, who just returned to the couple’s Hillsborough home after completing this year’s harvest, says that premium Tuscan olive oil also provides excellent health benefits. “When it’s first pressed and you have it on your salad, it’s like taking an ibuprofen,” she says. “The chemical compounds are similar. It really does great things for your overall health.”

The rich color and health benefits both fade over time, she says, but olive oil kept in a dark bottle, away from sunlight, will still be good to use after 18 months or more. She reserves fresh-pressed oil for salads and garnish, preferring oil that has mellowed for a few months for general cooking. It is the only oil she uses.
Indeed, Mayes can barely contain her disgust with commercially processed oils, such as canola and vegetable blends. “There is a video on YouTube about canola oil being processed with all these terrible additives,” she says with an audible shudder. “I know Thomas Keller likes to cook with canola oil; I’ve always wanted to send him an email about it.”

Mayes is likewise frustrated that food lovers will splurge on some things but scrimp on quality olive oil.
“People don’t think twice about spending $30 for a bottle of wine at dinner, but they hesitate over a bottle of fine olive oil for their kitchen, which will last a long time,” she says. “There’s just no getting around it: With olive oil, you get what you pay for. If it’s cheap, it’s just no good.”

Mayes says they’ve probably never even broken even on the cost of producing their oil, and likely never will.
“That’s not why we do it. It’s part of life in Italy. To me, it’s like Christmas,” she says. “Everyone gets involved: the mayor, your doctor, your neighbors. We have a big celebration at the end of the harvest, but on a daily basis, it’s so beautiful and peaceful out there. Those old trees are like presences.”

When not in the fields, Mayes has been communing with presences of her childhood for the forthcoming Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir. It is scheduled for April 1 release.
“It’s my return-to-my-roots book,” says Mayes, who writes about growing up in small-town Fitzgerald, Ga., a place that makes Hillsborough feel welcomingly familiar. “Hillsborough certainly is more sophisticated, in terms of being literary, but there are many similarities. We’ve lived in a lot of places, but I do feel very much at home here.”

For the past six years, the couple has lived part-time in a restored inn and tavern that was built in 1806. “It sounds really big but it had perhaps two guest rooms,” she explains. “It would have served people doing business at the old grist mill down the road. Also, we’re right on the Eno, so if the water was high and they couldn’t cross, people likely would have come here to spend the night.”
Mayes looks forward to welcoming family and friends to their home for Thanksgiving, where she will roast a traditional American-style turkey as well as a Tuscan-inspired rolled turkey breast.

“It’s simple, really,” she says, noting the recipe is not in The Tuscan Sun Cookbook. “You open the breast and flatten it like a book. I cover it with ground turkey and sausage then add other things like spinach and pistachio nuts.”
Roll the turkey breast, making sure to keep the filling well tucked, then wrap with thin slices of pancetta and truss with kitchen twine. “Put it a LeCruest (or Dutch oven) with a little white wine, tuck it in the oven and leave it alone until it’s done,” she says. “It’s moist and wonderful and people are always impressed when it’s sliced. It’s better than any roast turkey I’ve ever made.”

Mayes likes to offer her guests an ample choice of vegetable side dishes, including her Green Beans with Black Olives – a simple salad that can be prepared in advance.
Green Beans with Black Olives
Reprinted by permission of Frances Mayes from The Tuscan Sun Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 2012)

Serves 8
2 pounds slender green beans, topped and tailed
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4-5 slices pancetta
For the marinade:
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon pepperocini (red pepper flakes)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves or 1 tablespoon dried
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup black olives, pitted
juice of 1 orange and think strips of peel

Steam the beans just until barely done, about 5 minutes. Empty them into a 9x13-inch baking dish. In a small skillet over medium-low heat, sauté the onions in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil for about 3 minutes, or until completely cooked. Mix the onions with the beans in the baking dish.
Combine the marinade ingredients in a jar and shake well. Pour the marinade over the beans and onions, cover, and let rest in the fridge for 6 hours or longer, turning them over several times.

In a small skillet over medium heat, cook the pancetta in the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil until crisp, about 2 minutes on each side. Drain on absorbent paper towels. Crumble the pancetta over the top and serve chilled or at room temperature.




No comments:

Post a Comment