Archive for the ‘Food Glossary’ Category

Olive oil

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Pressed from olives, this is a rich, fruity oil used for marinades, dressings, baking and shallow frying. Hundreds of varieties of olive are used to make olive oil so the range available is huge, varying in colour, flavour, aroma and character.

Produced mainly in France, Spain, Italy and Greece, olive oil is similar to wine in that it varies with the climate, country, area of origin and seasonal factors. The oil from the first pressing is pure, pale greenish-yellow in colour and is the best quality. This is sold as ‘extra virgin’ olive oil and is best used for salads, marinades and pasta dishes.

The pulp is then pressed again to yield a darker oil that is less flavoursome than the first pressing and sold just as ‘olive oil’ or ‘pure olive oil’. Olive oil has many health-promoting properties because it’s relatively high in monounsaturates. Picking up on this fact, food manufacturers have turned to making spreads similar to margarine but containing up to 20 per cent olive oil.

Olive oil can be bought with additions such as herbs, garlic or chilli. Store it in a cool dark place away from direct sunlight but not in the fridge or it will turn cloudy.


Thursday, October 25th, 2007

An Italian dark green sauce for pasta originating in Genoa. It’s made from pine nuts blended with fresh basil, parmesan or pecorino cheese, garlic and olive oil.

Red pesto is made similarly but is based on either sun-dried tomatoes or grilled red peppers. It’s uncooked and can be bought preserved in jars or fresh in tubs. The contents of jars, once opened, should be kept in the fridge and used within a couple of weeks. Keep the surface covered with oil. Fresh pesto in tubs should be used within two to three days. It can easily be made at home but you do need a generous amount of basil leaves to make just a small portion of pesto.

Variations include using rocket, watercress or parsley instead of basil and nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts or pistachios instead of pine nuts.

The sauce can be stirred into freshly cooked pasta, spooned onto thick soups, spread on bruschetta, fillets of fish or chicken before grilling, or added to mayonnaise and salad dressings.


Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Garlic is a member of leek and onion family. There are many varieties, differing in size, pungency and colour. The bulb or ‘head’ of garlic is formed of 12 to 16 bulblets, called cloves. The most widely used European variety has a white/grey skin and is grown in southern France.

Garlic grows in warm climates around the world, including the UK – the Isle of Wight holds a garlic festival every year where the brave can try garlic ice cream.

Green, or fresh, garlic is usually only available from June to August in the UK; the type that’s more commonly sold in the UK is dried garlic (fresh garlic just dried in the sun).

Smoked garlic is dried garlic that has been smoked to give it a golden colour and mellow smoky flavour. You can also buy garlic purée and garlic salt or garlic granules for convenience.

Garlic has many culinary uses. The cloves are separated, peeled and then used whole, chopped or crushed. The more finely the garlic is crushed the stronger it will taste in the dish, but slow oven-baking tends to mellow the flavour – hence the famous chicken with 40 cloves of garlic dish isn’t as terrifying as it sounds! Raw garlic is essential in pesto sauce and aioli – garlic mayonnaise. Slivers of garlic can be inserted into lamb before roasting or the purée from roasted garlic can be squeezed from the cloves and stirred into mashed potato with some olive oil. For real garlic lovers, the head can be roasted whole and served as a vegetable.

The easiest way to crush garlic is to place a clove on a board and, using the flat side of a small knife, press down firmly until you have squashed it to a pulp. Sprinkle a little salt on the clove to help the knife grip and make a creamy paste. Using a pestle and mortar, again with a sprinkling of salt, is also a good way. Garlic crushers are fine, but some say that crushing the garlic this way gives it a bitter taste. If the garlic is old, be sure to remove the bitter ‘germ’ in the centre of the clove.


Thursday, October 25th, 2007

A creamy-coloured nut with an edible light-brown skin enclosed in a knobbly beige shell.

Walnuts are very versatile and good to cook with. Ground and chopped walnuts make a delicious addition to cakes, biscuits, buns and breads. The flavour is also exquisite in ice cream, toffee, fudge and other confectionery, such as walnut brittle or praline. New-season walnuts are delicious eaten with cheese, especially soft goats’ cheese or cream cheese. Very young walnuts that are still green and in their shells can be salted and pickled to serve with a cheeseboard or with cold meats.

Walnuts have a short shelf life once shelled, so they’re best kept in the fridge in an airtight container. For longer-term storage, it’s best to buy walnuts in shells and shell them as you need them. If the shell is firmly sealed you can store them for a few months. Never keep nuts from one year to the next because the flavour and quality quickly deteriorate, and they may become rancid. Walnut halves or roughly chopped nuts can add crunch to salads laced with walnut oil dressing.

Add them to noodles, use with chicken in Chinese dishes, or chop them into stuffings. Push walnut pieces into dates as an after-dinner sweetmeat, or just enjoy a bowl of walnuts with a glass of tawny port.

Rock salt

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Salt crystals derived from the huge seams of impacted salt that have formed below dried-out, underground saline lakes. The crystals are quite large and hard so are best used in a salt mill.

Cooking salt is refined rock salt and table salt is finely ground and refined rock salt with magnesium carbonate added to make it free-running and damp-resistant. Salt-baking, cooking food – usually fish – in a crust of salt is a traditional way of cooking fish in some Mediterranean countries.


Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Crystals of sodium chloride (NaCl) used as a seasoning and preservative. Salt is available as sea salt or rock salt. Sea salt is more highly prized than rock salt, which is mined from underground and needs to be further refined for cooking salt and table salt.


Thursday, October 25th, 2007

This warm, sweet spice comes from the bark of a tree native to Sri Lanka. The bark is removed, dried and rolled up to make a tube.

Cinnamon is sold dry as sticks and as a powder. You can try to grind your own cinnamon from the bark but it’s difficult to get it fine enough. It’s best to buy ground cinnamon in small quantities because the freshness and flavour quickly disappear.

The warm, sweet flavour of cinnamon is an essential ingredient in many sweet dishes, but it’s also used in savoury dishes. It’s gorgeous in baked goods, used to flavour buns, cakes, sweet pastries and puddings. Baked apples or apple pies wouldn’t be the same without the flavour of cinnamon.

Mexicans used cinnamon to flavour chocolate in cooking and in drinks. Cinnamon bark is used to flavour meat, poultry and vegetable stews and it can be added to spicy marinades or to spice up rice dishes. Break a stick in half and add to a poaching syrup for fruits such as pears, plums and bananas or use it to infuse wine or punch.


Thursday, October 25th, 2007

A type of pasta made with flour and water and sometimes eggs, cut into thin strips. The strands come in numerous shapes and sizes and can be fresh or dried. Noodles are used extensively in Far Eastern cuisine to accompany soups, sauces and stir-fried dishes.

Noodles are made from flour that is the staple food of the area, so they can be made from wheat flour, mung bean flour, buckwheat flour, potato flour or rice flour.

Chinese egg noodles, made with wheat flour, can be used in soups, stir-fries or in sauces for dishes using shredded meats, prawns or vegetables. Mung bean flour is used to make thin bean cellophane noodles which can be served as a noodle dish with a sauce or served with rice.

Rice noodles are used in soups or in meat and vegetable sauce dishes. They’re perfect store cupboard ingredients – quick to cook and very versatile.


Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Vermicelli is very fine, long strands of pasta – like a skinny spaghetti – often used in soups. The name means ‘little worms’ in Italian. It’s available fresh or dried.

Dried vermicelli is usually sold boxed in coiled nests to prevent the delicate strands from breaking. Serve it with delicate oil-based or thin creamy sauces, because thick sauces will soak into the pasta and make it go soggy.

The term is also used to describe Asian noodles, which are also sold dried, and which come in varying widths, from very thin to wide.

Rice vermicelli can be used in soups or stir-fries, served cold in spicy Asian salads, or used as the basis for some sweets.


Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Long thin ribbons of pasta sold either in curled nests or straight, like spaghetti. Tagliatelle can be plain or green (flavoured with spinach) and is available fresh or dried. It goes well with thick creamy sauces that cling to the pasta well.