Lidia Bastianich is many things: a star TV chef, a restaurateur extraordinaire (Felidia and Becco in New York City, Lidia's Kansas City and Lidia's Pittsburgh) and a celebrated author. The purpose behind everything she does is to introduce American cooks to the magnificence of the Italian table. Here, she tells Food & Wine magazine the five things every cook needs to know about buying and using olive oil, one of the most prized ingredients in an Italian pantry. As she says, "Olive oil is a lesson unto itself, and I'm going to give you a quick one."
1. Use the right grade of oil
All olive oil is graded by the amount of oleic acid it hasthe less acidity in the oil, the smoother and more aromatic it is. Extra-virgin olive oil, the highest and most expensive grade, contains less than 1 percent oleic acid; virgin oil has less than 2 percent; regular oil has up to 3.3 percent. I use extra-virgin for drizzling over salads or soups or for cooking something over gentle heat. If I make a braise, I start with a virgin or regular olive oil to brown the meat, then discard it and add more flavorful extra-virgin for sautéing the onions.
- Interview with TV Chef Lidia Bastianich
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2. Read the label
On bottle labels, you'll often see the words "first pressing" or "cold pressing" because they are very important. The "first pressing" of the olives to release the oil is the gentlest. "Cold pressing" means that the oil stays cool while it's extracted from the olives; pressing olives while they're hot yields more oil, but destroys the flavor.