Food Adventures

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Olive oil business

Recently, there have been several articles on the fraud in the olive oil industry and what that means to you as a consumer. There was this New Yorker article:

It discusses some disturbing practices in the olive oil industry. It claims that “in 1997 and 1998, olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union” and that olive oil fraud is a major international problem.

I personally found this newsletter by Silvestro Silvestori, the owner of the Awaiting Table cooking school ( in Lecce (Puglia, Italy) much more useful: it summarizes some of the major problems in the olive oil industry, but also provides suggestions for what we can all do to make sure we do not unwittingly contribute to the disturbing practices described:

While it is disturbing to know that I might have unwittingly contributed to the less-than-ethical practices in the olive oil industry, what touched me was this other newsletter by Silvestro describing the effect of those practices on the people who have spent their lives growing olives and making olive oil:

Those of us who enjoy food tend to idealize the process of producing olive oil (and other agricultural products). While sitting at our computers and trying to meet another work deadline, we dream of green olive groves and the happy people who tend them. But, as Silvestro’s newsletter makes clear, the lives of the people who produce (or used to produce) this wonderful product are filled with hard work and some unpleasant choices. Come to think of it, it’s surprising there are still as many small olive oil producers as there are. I know I will think of this next time I decide what olive oil to buy.

p.s. You might also find this newsletter, which describes the process of making olive oil and some of the things that can go wrong, useful:

Friday, March 07, 2008

Pasta comfort

Here is a recipe for a pasta dish that has become one of out favorites this winter: it’s easy and quick, which makes it perfect for work nights, when you want something comforting and tasty, but have little energy for cooking. It is a mix between spaghetti caccio e pepe (the Roman dish make with dried pasta, most often spaghetti, and cheese and black papper) and a grilled cheese and prosciutto sandwich, two of my all-time favorite meals.

Viktorija’s cheese and prosciutto spaghetti

Serves: 2 people, with leftovers for lunch the next day

½ package spaghetti
½ cup prosciutto, chopped
3 Tbs. half and half (or heavy cream)
1 ½ cups cacciocavallo (or other firm yellow cheese with strong flavor such as Parrano), grated
Pecorino Romano to taste, grated
Salt and pepper

Cook the pasta al dente (making sure to add plenty of salt to the cooking water). In the meantime, chop the prosciutto and brown it in a pan (Do not add oil; the prosciutto should have enough fat to brown and become crispy without burning). Add the half and half and when it’s warmed through, add the cooked pasta, and make sure it’s coated with the liquid in the pan. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the cacciocavallo, the Pecorino Romano and freshly-ground black pepper. The hot pasta should melt the cheese.

Enjoy with a nice glass of Italian red wine. We usually drink Valpolicella, our house wine.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Green Grocer Chicago

It’s still winter in Chicago (this week the temps are barely reaching 30F) and spring and the farmer’s market season feel far, far away. But, there is a way to ease the winter blues and remind yourself of what’s coming when the farmer’s markets start. And, of course, it involves delicious food.

A new grocery store on Grand Avenue (1402 W. Grand) carries some of my favorite products from the farmer’s market: Mint Creek Farm lamb, River Valley Kitchens salsas and sauces, and Tomato Mountain Farm jams and preserves. They also carry a number of other local and specialty products, including Metropolis coffee. (If you live in Chicago and have not tried Metropolis coffee, go looking for it as soon as you’re done reading this blog.)

Green Grocer Chicago ( is owned by Cassie Green and Gary Stephens. Cassie has a passion for food and has gone to great lengths to find products that are local and sustainable. She works with a lot of local small producers and you can often find some of these folks offering samples of their products on Saturday mornings.

Speaking of Saturday mornings, there are a number of courses on everything from nutrition to the basics of yoga and pilates (check out the schedule on the website).

One of the items on the wish list (a.k.a. mission statement) is “We want all people who enter the store to leave a little happier than they were when they came in the door.” And the folks at Green Grocer Chicago have certainly done that. On a stretch of Grand that lacks fun stores, this is truly a unique and heart-warming place. The minute you walk in, you feel like you are in a different world: warm, inviting, full of positive energy, and delicious food. Need I say more?