Oil taste it!


LOCALLY-made foods from around Ireland are always much more interesting than the products of giant British companies that masquerade as hand-made and flood our shops. But if you don't have access to Olvi oils, remember that Miriam Griffith is only one of a number of people producing these infusions and dressings - West Cork Herb Oils and Mustards from Skibbereen are superb, and Lime and Lemongrass are producing some exciting things in Dublin.

So, how do you put these oils and dressings to use? One of the good things about the Olvi dressings is that they act well in forming a background tableau upon which to impose your own favoured tastes and colours. Everybody will by now have tried that great signature dish of the 1980s, pasta with pesto perhaps even adding cooked potatoes and cooked green beans in the style of Marcella Hazan, an unlikely and dazzlingly fab combination. Dressings will have been liberally poured over lettuce leaves to make myriad styles of salad, but what else can you do with these crafty oils?

We asked some of the country's best-known cooks to give us some ideas, to tell 05 what they do with their own infusions.

Conrad "I don't do sauces" Gallagher of Dublin's Peacock Alley restaurant bases a lot of his cooking around essences and oils, reducing three bottles of balsamic vinegar to a port-like consistency to dot around the plate along with a sympathetic oil which has been infused with fresh herbs - rosemary oil is a current favourite. If you are serving an infusion of oils, whether it be your own or a bought variety, Conrad suggests you always warm it before applying to the plate: the heat liberates the flavours in the oils.

Conrad suggests something funky like a pesto couscous. He saute's garlic, onion, rosemary and then pureed basil and makes the pesto with pumpkin seeds. He uses chicken stock to make the cous cous, turns in the pesto, and then finishes the dish off with basil oil and, at the last minute, a sprinkle of scallions. The couscous is served with pepper stew and crab meat.

Bernadette O'Shea, the legendary pizza queen of Sligo, suggests you serve oysters with the Olvi mango vinaigrette, adding a puree of shallots. Another smashing idea is to marinate feta cheese in the basil vinaigrette, and make a Greek salad that includes peppers and basil along with cucumbers, olives and tomatoes.

Bernadette also suggests that you use the vinaigrettes as a dressing for steamed vegetables rather than cold salads, as the warmth will bring out the best in the olive oil. Flavoured oils are also good with grilled vegetables - particularly a tomato vinaigrette.

Ms O'Shea would use olive paste for breads, but also suggests you combine it with a puree made from sun-dried tomatoes and use this knock-out concoction to drizzle over a soup carrot and tomato soup would be good. Bernadette herself uses her own olive paste mixture to garnish a ginger and baked aubergine soup. She suggests the mango vinaigrette would also be good as a colourful garnish for soup.

Both Bernadette O'Shea and Paul McCluskey, of McCluskey's in Waterford, think basil pesto dressing is smashing with fish: Bernadette suggests seared salmon (add fresh purple basil she insists). Paul serves it with his local Dunmore East plaice, a dish he dresses with his own pesto made using pecan nuts and red peppers.

Smoked fish is good with flavoured oils too. Mary Maw, one of the three great culinary masterminds behind the Belfast delicatessen Cargoes, teams up avocado and smoked salmon with a tomato vinaigrette. She also uses pesto for an easy but sophisticated salad for chicken: simply mix pesto together with mayonnaise and toss with some baked, slivered chicken breast. Garnish the salad with avocado to assert the lovely spring green colour.

For Ms Maw, mango dressings suggest smoked duck, while young Nevan Maguire of the MacNean Bistro in Blacklion, Co Cavan, suggests smoked chicken with a mango dressing, ideally served with melon.

SEAN Calder Potts, of the splendid Iago, in the Cork covered market, doesn't approve of the trend for flavoured vinaigrettes - all a salad needs, he says is good olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, with garlic or parmesan allowed the odd look-in. He does break the rules with pesto, however, serving it in a variety of sandwiches.

Mediterranean breads are teamed up with fresh mozzarella, basil pesto and tomato, and Sean also makes an olive pesto where the olives are mixed with fresh herbs, this served again with mozzarella, and he also recommends the fine Ardsallagh goat's cheese, from Youghal in east Cork, in these sandwiches. Another combo is a bruschetta made from left-over bread, cut in half and smeared with olive oil, Ardsallagh goat's cheese, and a sun-dried tomato and mint pesto.

Our own forays into the use of Olvi dressings came up with a number of ideas: Try zapping up the mango dressing with some meat juices left over from your Sunday roast (chicken or lamb are the best choices) and use it then as the dressing for a composed salad, using left over meat from the roast along with plenty of green leaves, tomatoes, scallions and fresh herbs. If you have a spankingly fresh young vegetable such as purple sprouting broccoli or fine young spinach, simply spoon over some basil or tomato vinaigrette onto the hot leaves.

The mango dressing also teams well with duck.

Duck Breasts with Mango Vinaigrette and Balsamic Vinegar

2 duck breasts, Salt and pepper, Olvi Mango Vinaigrette, 1 cup balsamic vinegar

Boil the balsamic vinegar until it reduces to a quarter of its Volume and thickens to a petrolly-black syrup. Gently warm some Mango Vinaigrette. Score the duck breasts with a sharp knife to make incisions through to the fat under the skin. Sprinkle with salt crystals and pack liberally with freshly ground or cracked black pepper.

Heat a frying pan over high heat and add the duck breasts to the dry pan, skin side down. They will produce a lot of fat very quickly, which you should pour off. Turn the breasts after about three minutes, cook on the other side for three to four minutes depending on how pink you like the meat.

Remove from the pan, rest for five minutes, then slice thinly. Fan or pile the slices of duck onto two serving plates. Drizzle around some mango vinaigrette and then feather in droplets of reduced vinegar. This is delicious served with roast potatoes and some steamed purple sprouting broccoli.

Avocado and Tomato Salsa

6 tablespoons Olvi tomato and fennel dressing, 4 tablespoons olive oil, 1 small red onion (very finely diced), 2 avocados (very finely diced), 1 small red pepper (roasted and finely diced), 1 large bunch of fresh coriander (leaves stripped from the stem), Salt and pepper

Mix the dressing with the oil and season. Add the finely diced vegetables. Serves six as a dressing for a composed salad. Or you could double up the avocado and make it a salad in its own right.