One sure sign that Spring has sprung is the plethora of Passover products that start appearing on grocery store shelves. Each year, I look forward to checking out what new foodstuffs were invented. Usually these products are meant to counterfeit their non-Passover counterparts. Each year, I hold my own personal contest to see what the strangest and most Pesadich-y thing will be. Last year, I was thrilled and simultaneously disgusted by the Pesadich soy sauce. I saved the bottle and put it in my cabinet just to remind myself of how scary food can get.

Well, that soy sauce is so last year. I found something that trumps all the ersatz foods out there. The new crop of Passover substitutes includes a product called Mac & Cheez. There is neither Mac (pasta) even of the Passover kind nor is there Cheese or Cheez. The product is pareve and the pasta is made from tapioca. It is nutritionally empty; there is not one vitamin in it. I bought a box and put it right next to my soy sauce and there it shall stay as a reminder of how bad faux food can get.

There is something really great that we can use for Passover. It is delicious, all natural and minimally processed. All extra virgin olive oil is kosher all year round and that includes Passover. The savvy Passover shopper is buying great olive oil this year.

Olive oil is the fruit oil obtained from the olive. Commonly used in cooking, cosmetics, soaps and fuel for lamps, olive oil is grown and used throughout the world but especially in the Mediterranean.

Olive oil is produced by grinding or crushing and extracting the oil from the olive. A green olive produces bitter oil and an overripe olive produces rancid oil. For great extra virgin olive oil it is essential to have olives that are perfectly ripe.

Purchasing olive oil and knowing how to use it can be confusing. Add to that, the kashrut factor and it is no wonder that consumers and home cooks are bewildered by the array of products on supermarket and specialty market shelves.

Here is a summary of olive oils and their uses:

Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) comes from virgin oil production only and contains no more than 0.8% acidity. Extra virgin olive oil accounts for less than 10% of oil in many oil producing countries. The superior fruity flavor makes this oil best used for vinaigrettes, drizzling on soups and pastas for added richness and a fruity taste for dipping breads and vegetables. Extra virgin olive oil does not require hashgacha (even for Pesach) as it is cold pressed.

Virgin olive oil comes from virgin oil production only and has less than 2% acidity. This oil is best used for sautéing and for making vinaigrettes. It is generally not as expensive as the extra virgin olive oil but has a good taste. This oil does require hashgacha.

Pure olive oil. Oils labeled as pure olive oil or olive oil are usually a blend of refined and virgin production oil. This oil is perfect for sautéing. It does not have a strong flavor and can be used for making aiolis and cooking. This oil does require hashgacha.

Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality olive oil. It is typically more expensive than other olive oils. Extra virgin olive oil is typically not recommended for high heat cooking. Every oil has its smoke point. A smoke point refers to the heat temperature at which the oil begins to break down and degrade. An oil that is above its smoke point not only has nutritional and flavor degradation but can also reach a flash point where combustion can occur. You can observe this when you have a very hot pan and hot oil and food are added to the pan and they produce a bluish and acrid smelling smoke or worse yet, catch fire.

Extra virgin olive oil has a very low smoke point of 375°. I use my best extra virgin olive oil for making vinaigrettes, adding luxurious fruity flavor to pasta dishes, garnishing foods and dipping breads. When I am high-heat sautéing or frying, I tend to reach for pure olive oil or a different type of oil.

Extra virgin olive oil has a long list of health benefits from reducing coronary artery disease, cholesterol regulation and possibly reducing risk of certain cancers. This makes the decision for using extra virgin olive oil a no-brainer.

The bigger decision is which oil to buy. Most of the world’s extra virgin olive oil comes from the southern Mediterranean countries. I favor an organic, unfiltered Spanish oil. I also like estate grown products as I know that a farmer fretted over the olives and the weather during its production. Many mass-produced oils are made not from a single source or farm and the flavor can be uneven and harsh.

When cooking for Passover and for every meal, I recommend whole, natural ingredients. I never go to the dark side of cooking with products that are loaded with laboratory-made ingredients and faux flavors or colors. For this holiday and every day, let’s keep it real.

JDaters®, both of these recipes are perfect for bringing to seders and contributing to a meal. They are also easy do-ahead dishes and will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

Chocolate Mousse with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Passover used to mean a hiatus from good chocolate. Recently, there have been several new companies that have introduced kosher for Passover high-end chocolate. I like to sprinkle my mousse with sea salt as a garnish. The sparkly flavor of the salt enhances the fruitiness of the olive oil and the chocolate.

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (must be at least 70% cacao)

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup brewed coffee

4 eggs, separated

2/3 cup powdered sugar (kosher for Passover)

1/3 cup brewed coffee

1 vanilla bean, scraped

  1. Melt the chocolate and cool to room temperature. Mix in the olive oil and coffee and set aside.
  2. Combine the yolks and powdered sugar and whisk until foamy, add the chocolate mixture.
  3. Beat the whites to stiff peaks; fold the whites into the chocolate.
  4. Pour into a 9-inch cake pan or loaf pan lined with plastic wrap and chill 8 hours or freeze for 3 hours. Unmold onto a serving plate and slice.

For a variation, I like to sprinkle coarse sea salt onto the top of the mousse. The sea salt brings out the fruitiness of the olive oil and the chocolate.

Caponata di Carciofi (Relish of Artichokes)

This caponata does not have the usual tomatoes and eggplant. Instead it is a concoction of early spring and late-winter vegetables. I serve it with roasted chicken, duck and even fish. It adds flair to any table and for Passover we drizzle our matzah with olive oil and herbs and then dollop some of this caponata on top of it for a crunchy snack.

Yields about 2 cups

1 pound baby artichokes or frozen artichoke hearts

1 fennel bulb, cut into julienne (save fronds for garnish)

2 leeks, white parts only, chopped

3 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon tomato paste

½ cup white wine

½ cup golden raisins

¼ cup pine nuts

¼ cup fresh mint, torn or cut into thin strips (chiffonade)

½ cup fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

  1. To clean the artichokes, use a paring knife to cut the outside leaves free from the body of the vegetable. Continue turning your knife around the artichoke until you have an equal amount of green leaves with yellow tops. Be sure to leave the stem intact. You can peel some of the tough green fibers from the outside. The stem gives the artichoke a pretty shape! Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise and scoop out the choke (if any) with a melon baller. Place the artichoke pieces in a bowl of cold water with lemon juice squeezed into it to keep the artichokes from turning dark.
  2. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat and coat the bottom lightly with olive oil. Add the fennel pieces and leeks. Sauté the vegetables until they are lightly browned and have softened. Add the drained artichokes and continue sautéing until lightly browned. Add the garlic, tomato paste and white wine. Stir together. Add the raisins and turn down the heat to low and allow the mixture to simmer for 30 minutes until the artichokes are soft.
  3. Place a small sauté pan over medium heat and add the pine nuts. Toast the pine nuts until they are lightly browned. Watch them carefully as they can burn quickly.
  4. Add the pine nuts to the mixture. Add the mint, parsley and thyme. Salt and pepper to taste

Serve the caponata warm or cold. The caponata can be made three days before serving and stored covered in the refrigerator.

Laura Frankel is an Executive Chef at Wolfgang Puck Kosher Catering and author of numerous kosher cookbooks including Jewish Cooking for All Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes. To purchase her books, click here.
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