Get Cooking: Why olive oil should be considered a condiment

Despite the wealth of offerings of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) at our grocery stores, we shouldn’t get the idea that all are suited for the same purpose in our kitchens. And certainly that purpose is merely to coat leaves of lettuce in a salad. Or to heat any of them in a skillet or frying pan, then to get on with the rest of the recipe.

EVOO is more profitably considered as a condiment, really, employed as it’s consumed in cultures other than ours. We have ketchup; the rest of the West has EVOO.

To suggest EVOO’s use as a condiment (in addition to its straightforward, cooking-with-heat uses), let’s take a gander at eating throughout the day in a soup-to-nuts tour of sorts, EVOO at every step. (I assume that you have no inordinate or misinformed fear of fat, but know its helpful, indeed healthful, place in your own diet.)

Cooking eggs in EVOO, or in a combination of it and butter, adds a tremendous amount of ancillary flavor to mere butter alone. Poaching foods in EVOO that are suited for various courses of a daily meal (eggs, perhaps, but certainly fish, vegetables or fowl) isn’t wasteful of the oil if it’s strained and kept back for further, future uses in the same method. Plus, again, the flavor bests water or, often, bouillon.

Coating cutup vegetables (or whole heads or other forms of larger vegetables such as cauliflower or whole beets) in EVOO and then roasting them is well-tried. Such preparations are delicious, of course, served hot or warm, but also make for tasty leftovers at room temperature, as their own small meal or snack.

Of course, the salads, of so many sorts — slathered or simply coated with dressings founded in EVOO and all the flavors, perfumes, even textures, that EVOO can raid from the pantry to augment its already buoyant taste. Some focused cooks prefer the simplest salad to be constructed of lettuce only and dressed in EVOO only.

Midday, serve fresh cheeses such as milky mozzarella or Neuchâtel dressed with EVOO (and perhaps some aged balsamic). You might make your own sort-of sushi by thinly slicing raw tuna or salmon (other fish are possibilities, too) in what the Italians call “crudo,” always drizzled with EVOO and further flavored with lemon juice and zest and perhaps capers.

Clearly considering EVOO as a condiment, it shines in later-day food preparations that are typically served on the warmer side. Drizzle it on a finished steak or piece of broiled or baked fish, in just the same way you’d employ a steak or tartar sauce. (Nothing wrong with these latter, but EVOO is a fine changeup if you’re in the mood.)

Top popcorn, top pizza, make EVOO and garlic alone as sauce for pasta (“aglio e olio,” if you enjoy the vowel).

We now are aware of EVOO’s use as a dip for bread or focaccia. But heat it and dip into it raw vegetables in the Italian dish called pinzimonio, or as the fondue-like bagna cauda (“hot bath,” in Italian dialect), EVOO rich with anchovy, butter and garlic.

Any soup, stew or cassoulet is vastly improved with a swirl of EVOO on its top in the bowl or on the plate; come warmer temperatures outside, even chilled soups. A Spaniard would consider a gazpacho unfinished were it not to have a small river of liquid green coursing over its surface.

EVOO even figures in dessert. Some vanilla ice creamers scream for EVOO to top their scoops (not much, merely a bit; try it). And as the recipe below attests, EVOO is a main flavoring and the major moisturizer for a great cake.

Olive Oil Cake

By Samantha Seneviratne in The New York Times. “This simple, lemon-scented olive oil cake is an elegant treat all by itself or topped with whipped cream, fruit or ice cream. The olive oil contributes a pleasant fruity flavor while keeping the cake moister for longer than butter ever could. Make sure your olive oil tastes delicious and fresh. If you wouldn’t eat it on a salad, it won’t be good in your cake.” Makes one 9-inch cake.

Adjusted for altitude.


  • 1 cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar, plus about 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1¼ cups whole milk, at room temperature


  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan using extra-virgin olive oil and line the bottom with parchment paper. Oil the parchment and flour the pan, shaking out any excess flour.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In the bowl of an electric mixer set on high, beat the sugar, eggs and lemon zest until very thick and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer still running, slowly drizzle in the oil and beat until incorporated, another 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and add milk and lemon juice. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smooth the top using an offset spatula and sprinkle the top with about 2 tablespoons sugar.
  3. Bake the cake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes (but check for doneness sooner in case it bakes faster in your oven). Transfer to a rack to cool for 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to release the sides of the cake from the pan. Invert the cake onto a plate and then flip it back over onto the rack to cool completely. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.
  4. Notes: The recipe favors a springform pan over a regular 9-inch cake pan. NYT commenters said: “Used almond milk or cashew milk with good results,” “Unsweetened almond milk instead of regular milk,” and “Almond extract and orange zest and juice instead of lemon.” Finally, “Extra batter makes delicious pancakes!”


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