Postcards From Meghalaya: Pineapples In The Wild

I don’t think you can go to Meghalaya and not fall in love with the pineapples. We did too, when we were holidaying in the state, earlier this year.

The fruits are everywhere, on flat ground, on hilly slopes, in people’s backyards, even out in the wild, in the middle of nowhere.

The pineapples simply love the soil and the weather here, and grow, grow, grow. They are food for the local people here, as well as a means of earning a livelihood.

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A home in Mawlynnong, touted as the cleanest village in Asia. Don’t miss the pineapples stacked up at the entrance!

The husband and I had never before seen pineapples growing on a plant. The first-ever glimpse we caught of one was at Mawylnnong, growing in someone’s bountiful garden.

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A pineapple growing in someone’s home garden, in Mawlynnong

The pineapples of Meghalaya are so not your regular fruits that you buy off a shelf in a store. They are ambrosial, beauties to look at, so sweet that you wonder if they have been dipped in sugar syrup – which they haven’t, of course, because they were cut right then and there, in front of you. One bite into them, and the juice gushes out of them, runs down your cheeks and elbows. You don’t mind the messiness one bit, of course.

While we were in Meghalaya, we ate pineapples whenever and wherever we could. We gorged on them to our heart’s content. They weren’t exactly cheap, but not over-the-moon pricey as well. On the drive from Mawlynnong to the Indo-Bangladesh border at Tamabil, we had the luxury of eating a wild pineapple, sitting by a waterfall, listening to it croon beautiful music in our ears. At how many places in India can you do *that*?

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The gushing waterfall that provided us music as we gorged on wild pineapples, en route to the Tamabil border from Mawlynnong

So, we were driving down when we came upon this pretty little place – almost forest-like, full of green, a place where you can hear water gushing and birds chirping, with no vehicles passing by. A lone armyman patrolled the area, looking out for infiltrators from the nearby Bangladesh and, of course, for anyone creating a nuisance, generally. There appeared to be no one else there, but then we spotted this little boy, a local, selling pineapples that he had plucked from plants out there in the wild. We had to have one, of course.

Our cab driver haggled with the boy in the local dialect, and they agreed upon a price. A gorgeous, sun-ripened pineapple was chosen.

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Isn’t that a beauty?!

The boy went on to expertly shave off the thorns from the fruit.

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The pineapple being readied for us

The pineapple was then cut into slices of just the right thickness, under the careful eye of our driver. We were handed the slices wrapped in a couple of banana leaves, and we pounced on them. Meanwhile, the waterfall nearby gushed on, the birds continued chirping, and insects twittered in the trees. The army man on patrol gave us a warm smile.

It was an experience we will cherish for ever, being one with nature at a place where it abounds.

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The pineapple being chopped under the expert tutelage of our cab driver

When we left, one pineapple down, drunk on nature, stomachs and hearts sated, the boy offered us a peek into the lunch he had been having when we arrived there. It was a stunningly simple meal that I absolutely had to click – and, of course, there was pineapple in it too!

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The boy’s stunningly simple meal that had a certain beauty to it

As we drove off, we waved to the little boy and the army man.

They waved us off with smiles.

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I hope you have read and enjoyed my other posts about our trip to North-East India. If you haven’t, here are the links for you:

 

 

Christmas Buffet At Plaza Premium Lounge, Bengaluru International Airport

The uber-luxurious Plaza Premium Lounge at the Bengaluru International Airport served a special lunch buffet for Christmas this year. The honour of getting an exclusive preview of this Christmas menu was bestowed on me, along with a few other food, travel and lifestyle bloggers. Read on, to know how I found the spread!

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This menu, specially curated by Executive Chef Ankit Mangala for the occasion of Christmas, was served at Plaza Premium Lounge on December 24 and 25, 2017. 

Apart from a sumptuous Honey-Glazed Turkey (of course!) served with cranberry sauce, the extensive spread also included some Christmas-sy desserts like Pumpkin Pie, Plum Cake and Yule Log, as well as some very traditional Indian dishes like Daal Makhani, Butter Rice and Peas Pulao for the benefit of international travellers who would love a taste of India.

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Some of the dishes from the Christmas-special buffet: The turkey in the centre, surrounded by Heirloom Tomato, Watermelon & Basil Salad, Paneer Butter Masala, Creamy Pesto Chicken Casserole, Parsi Chicken Dhansak, and Peas Pulao (clock-wise direction from bottom left)

I tried out the vegetarian dishes, and found most of them to be well-executed, beautiful in taste and presentation. Though I felt several of the dishes didn’t really have a Christmas-sy touch to them, the menu was well thought out, from the angle of an international traveller who might have a couple of hours to kill at Bengaluru Airport on or around Christmas day.

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A close-up of the Honey-Glazed Turkey, presented beautifully with assorted vegetables

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Here’s what I loved the most from this spread.

1. Pumpkin & Roasted Garlic Soup

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Pumpkin & Roasted Garlic Soup at Plaza Premium Lounge

The pumpkin soup was simply beautiful, expertly prepared. It had just the right texture to it, neither too thick nor too watery. It tasted lovely, with bits of roasted garlic adding a lovely depth to the flavour. I loved this one to bits – it was perfect for the cold evening we visited!

2. Roasted Potato Salad With Lemon Vinaigrette

This salad, served cold, tasted absolutely lovely. The potatoes were cooked just right, and the lemon vinaigrette – mild and subtle – made for a beautiful complement to them.

3. Daal Makhani and Peas Pulao

The daal makhani was the star of the meal, for me. It was rich and creamy, without being greasy or overwhelming. The taste was stunningly gorgeous, and it coupled just perfectly with the mild and simple peas pulao.

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Top left: Peas Pulao, Top right: Roasted Potato Salad With Lemon Vinaigrette; Bottom right: Garlic Vegetable Fried Rice; Bottom left: The star of the meal for me – the Daal Makhani

4. Stir-Fried Vegetables With Tofu, Ginger & Chilli Sauce, and Garlic Vegetable Fried Rice

This was yet another beautifully executed dish at Plaza, a huge hit with me. The runny gravy had a lovely gingery flavour to it, without being overloaded with spice, just enough to warm the cockles of your heart. The curry had a generous amount of vegetables and tofu in it, and made for a lovely, lovely complement to the mildly spiced garlic vegetable rice we were served.

5. Butterscotch Pastry

We were served a tasting portion of a few of the desserts that would be part of the Christmas-special buffet at Plaza Premium Lounge. Of these, I loved the butterscotch pastry the most – it was light yet sinful, delicate yet full of flavour. Very well done!

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A few of the desserts from the XMas-special buffet at Plaza: Christmas Star Cupcake, Butterscotch Pastry, and (don’t miss this!) an Oreo-And-Strawberry Santa!

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What could have been better

  1. I loved how the menu offered a taste of India and how the team had added little Christmas-sy touches to certain dishes (the Couscous Salad, With Zucchini, Mint & Cranberries, for instance). That said, with all due respect to the Chef and his team, the menu (main course, especially) could have been a bit more festive, a bit more significant of the occasion.
  2. I felt the vegetarians had limited (albeit delicious) options to choose from. Vegetarians should have had something equally enticing as the Honey-Glazed Turkey or the Chicken Dhansak or Creamy Pesto Chicken Casserole.
  3. Taste-wise, the desserts (except for the Butterscotch Pastry) could have been better. 

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Plaza Premium Lounge, a warm note of thanks for making this sneak peek possible!

So, people, the next time you have a few hours to kill at the Bengaluru International Airport in between flights, you know where to head to! Christmas or not, Plaza Premium Lounge dishes up some wonderful meals all right!

Home-Made Strawberry Butter

Merry Christmas, people! 🙂

What are you eating this XMas? I must tell you that you’ve really got to try out this home-made strawberry butter!

It takes but a few minutes to put together, and tastes absolutely delicious. Apart from a lovely spread for bread, toast and bagels, this home-made strawberry butter makes for a simple and beautiful icing for cakes and muffins. The pretty pink of this butter is eye-catching, just perfect for the Christmas season.

This is a great way to use the beautiful strawberries that are in season right now.

Here’s how I make home-made strawberry butter. The idea for the spread came from Pinterest, and I perfected the recipe after a bit of trial and error.

Ingredients (yields close to 1 cup):

  1. 100 grams of salted butter, softened
  2. About 10 medium-sized strawberries
  3. 1/3 cup sugar, or to taste

Method:

  1. Wash the strawberries and pat dry gently, using a cotton cloth. Remove the green leafy stem. Chop them up and puree in a mixer.
  2. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan and add in the sugar and the pureed strawberries. Reduce flame to medium.
  3. Cook on medium flame till the strawberries and sugar meld together and begin to form a thickish mixture, 2-3 minutes. Don’t overcook it, otherwise it will become too thick.
  4. Allow the strawberry-sugar mixture to cool down completely.
  5. When the strawberry-sugar mixture has cooled down fully, place it in a mixer along with the softened butter. Blend for a couple of seconds, stopping in between to mix the ingredients together with a spoon. Done!
  6. Store in a clean, dry, air-tight box, refrigerated, when not in use. This strawberry butter can be used as a spread for bread, sandwiches, plain cakes, toast and bagels.

Notes:

  1. You can use unsalted butter to make this as well. Just add in a pinch of salt while blending, in that case. I used Amul salted butter to make this.
  2. You can skip pureeing the strawberries and cook the chopped pieces directly, with the sugar. I prefer pureeing them.
  3. Use more or less sugar depending upon your taste preferences and how tart/sweet the strawberries are.
  4. Don’t use butter straight out of the fridge to make this. Ensure that the butter has been kept at room temperature for a couple of hours and has softened enough, before proceeding to make this.
  5. Refrigerated, this butter stays well for up to a week. Make sure you use only a clean, dry spoon to remove the strawberry butter.

You like? I hope you will try this out too, and that you will love it as much as we do!

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Foodie Monday Blog Hop

This recipe is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme for this week is ‘Christmas recipes’.

The Culinary Symposium Of Millets, With Shri Krishna Byre Gowda

It was an enriching and enlightening experience for me to be part of The Culinary Symposium On Millets, held recently at MS Ramaiah University, New BEL Road.

Dignitaries like Shri Krishna Byre Gowda, Hon’ble Minister of Agriculture for State, Government of Karnataka; Karnataka State Agriculture Commissioner Shri Satheesh; Executive Chefs from The Oberoi, The Taj and a number of other hotels of great repute, representatives of eateries like SodaBottleOpenerWala and MTR as well as from food delivery services like FreshMenu, producers of millet-based foods, food critics and other well-known figures from the food scene in India, as well as select food bloggers.

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Left: Shri K Satheesh, Shri Krishna Byre Gowda and Mr. Ramaswamy Selvaraju (Executive Chef of Vivanta By Taj, Bangalore, present at the event; Right: Shri Krishna Byre Gowda making a point at the Symposium

The Symposium was a run-up to the Organics & Millets International Trade Fair 2018, which is to be held at the Bangalore Palace in January 2018. The event was a huge success in 2017, and it is expected to be even bigger and better in 2018!

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Left: Veterans from the hospitality industry in India, discussing their expectations and plans for the Organics & Millets International Trade Fair 2018; Right: Ms. Priya of MS Ramaiah University, who has made a significant contribution towards the millet cause, in co-ordination with the Government of Karnataka

The event served as a meeting point for various stakeholders to meet and discuss the road map to the very promising Organics & Millets International Trade Fair 2018. Restaurants, food bloggers, social media experts, home chefs, hotel management institutes, culinary studios, everyone has a role to play to make the upcoming event a success all over again, something that was discussed in great detail at the symposium.

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A discussion in progress at The Culinary Symposium On Millets. Dignitaries from the Government of Karnataka, food bloggers, experts from the Indian hospitality industry, representatives of various restaurants from Bangalore, and producers of packaged millet-based foods were all part of the discussion.

Some of the key points discussed were:

  1. What restaurants could do to educate patrons on the importance of consuming millets and how to gain better acceptance for them.
  2. Organising millet-based cooking competitions to encourage more people to cook with millets, especially homemakers.
  3. Organising workshops at various places to teach people how to cook using millets.
  4. Involving street carts and stalls in the millet cause, and encouraging them to use more millets in their offerings.
  5. Including millets in the curriculum at hotel management institutes.
  6. Introducing healthy millet-based foods in school and college canteens, as well as hospitals.
  7. Training of the staff at hotels in how to use millets in cooking.
  8. Ensuring a steady supply of various kinds of millets to restaurant kitchens.
  9. Spreading awareness about the benefits of consuming millets, in schools and colleges.
  10. Spreading the word about millets through Instagram and other social media networks, so that the campaign can reach the younger generation.

Another reason for the organisation of this Symposium was to showcase the huge variety of foods (traditional as well as contemporary, vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian) that can be prepared using millets. These dishes were all thoughtfully conceptualised and prepared by students and chefs of MS Ramaiah University.

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SOUP: Left: Some very delicious Ragi And Tomato Soup and Right: Sorghum And Chicken Soup, both presented at the Symposium; Centre: The pretty ladies who prepared these soups

I was surely awed by the sheer variety of millet-based dishes on display! Mind = Blown! I could see the other guests at the Symposium having the same awe-struck reaction on their faces, too. Of course, how could they not?!

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SALADS: Top left: My personal favourite dish at the Symposium, a sweet-sour-salty-crunchy-spicy-nutty salad made with baked millet sprouts and a lot of nuts; Below: The millet sprouts used in the salad and another presentation of the same beautiful salad; Top right: A salad made with ragi crisps and millet sprouts; Bottom right: A salad made with fruits and assorted millets

Along with the other guests, I sampled the dishes on offer – the vegetarian part of it, that is. Most of what I tried out was absolutely, finger-lickingly delicious!

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APPETISERS AND MAIN COURSE: Top left: Jowar Pasta in the making, along with jowar-based white sauce to go with it; Below: Stuffed Chicken made with millets and Kaalu Saaru, a gravy made with millets and green gram; Top right: A tasting portion of the Jowar Pasta; Bottom right: Sorghum Tacos

Drooling yet? No? 😦

Well, the desserts will make you drool for sure! Take a look at them!

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Left and centre: Jowar Jalebi in the making!; Right: The beautiful jowar jalebi served with rabdi
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Top left: Millet brownies; Below: Millet Fruit Tarts; Bottom Right: The bajra and jaggery halwa that I adored; Top: Lavang Latika made with sorghum (left) and Chocolate Millet Bars (right)

Mind you, this is just a small part of the millet feast that was on display at the Symposium – this is just for the purpose of representation; there was much more!

I hope you enjoyed the visuals! Do drop in a note, through the comments, to tell me what you thought of this post and the pics.

May this inspire all of us to do more with millets in the days to come! And, oh, don’t miss visiting the Organics & Millets International Trade Fair 2018!

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For more pictures from the event, check out my Facebook album here!

The Inner Chef Pasta-Making Workshop With Chef Michel Basaldella

“About a decade or so ago, most restaurants in Italy would make fresh pasta for the customers. They would begin to roll out the pasta only as a customer got in the door, and to serve anything less than just-made, hand-crafted pasta was a sin. Today, though, there are hardly any eateries who do that, in Italy or the rest of the world,” said Chef Michel Basaldella as he began the ‘pasta-making from scratch’ workshop last week.

“Consider yourselves very lucky to be able to experience hand-made pasta just out of the pan,” he added. I acquiesced, as did the few other food enthusiasts on board. We were at Cafe Onesta in Koramangala, eager to begin learning how to make pasta the old-fashioned way, at a workshop organised by InnerChef. I was lucky, indeed, to be able to learn from the Italian maestro himself, lucky to be invited to the workshop in my capacity as a food blogger. I was lucky to be able to get a bite of Provence, where Chef Basaldella hails from – that place I’ve always dreamt about after reading Peter Mayle! –  from the hands of the Chef, who has an extensive experience of working in Michelin-starred restaurants in London and Paris. Woah!

And the workshop began on that promising note, making it an evening that panned out so, so, so beautifully I am sure all of us present are going to cherish for a long time to come. Chef Basaldella teamed up with Chef Armando Di Filippo (who is a native of Rome, and is presently Consultant Chef with Onesta) to demonstrate quite a few varieties of hand-made pasta. I will take you through my memories of the lovely evening, through my pictures.

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Left: Chef Basaldella mixing the dough for the pasta, Centre: The pasta dough being bound, Right: Chef Basaldella rolling out the dough after it has rested

“Different regions in Italy prepare pasta with slight variations in the proceedure. Some add in about 12 eggs for 1 kg of flour, while some add in about 6. And a splash of white wine is an absolute must, for a great-tasting pasta,” quipped Chef Basaldella, as he mixed the dough for the workshop.

Into the mixing bowl went a kilogram of maida (a good substitute to the 00 flour – a very fine flour made from wheat – that is commonly used in Italy for the purpose), three whole eggs, the yolk of three eggs, a dash of white wine, olive oil, a pinch of turmeric (for that mild yellow colour – because the egg yolks in India aren’t as yellow as those in Italy), and just a pinch of salt, for all of it to be mixed together with gentle hands. The flour and other ingredients were then tipped onto the table, and bound together into a firm but soft dough.

“Every family in Italy has a wooden table, where generations of women have stood and made pasta by hand,” Chef Basaldella quipped. “Here, though, we’ll be using this metal surface,” he said, almost apologetically.

The dough was then stretched and pulled and pushed to release its glutens, then bound up in cling wrap and allowed to rest. “If you think you cannot do all that pulling and pushing, think of your spouses,” Chef Basaldella said jokingly, “and you will automatically start punching the dough.” Ha!

It was after this that the magic began, and the audience watched on, spell-bound. Once the dough had had time to rest (about 20 minutes), one shape of pasta after another emerged from the skilled hands of Chef Basaldella and Chef Di Filippo. “There are over 3000 different shapes in which pasta has been made – only the documented versions, that is,” Chef Basaldella said, eliciting a ‘Wow!’ from the audience.

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Left: Chef Basaldella making thin strips of the dough using a pasta machine; Centre: Chef Di Filippo demonstrating how to make pasta without a machine, using a rolling pin; Right: Ravioli in the making

Chef Basaldella went on insert a little of the prepared dough into a pasta-making machine, specially flown in from Italy for the purpose. The output was a thin, stretched-out sheet of dough. This dough was then folded and folded again, again inserted into the machine, to get an even thinner sheet of dough. This process was repeated 8-10 times, at the end of which a highly pliable, super thin and soft sheet of dough was obtained.

Chef Di Filippo demonstrated the same process with a rolling pin, for the benefit of those who do not have access to a pasta-making machine. He rolled out the dough thin, thin, thin, folded it and folded it again, rolled it out again, quite a few times. The end result was, again, a thin and pliable sheet of dough.

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Left, Centre and Right: Chef Basaldella and Chef Di Filippo demonstrating how to make different shapes of ravioli

Chef Basaldella and Chef Di Filippo then showed the audience how to make ravioli in different shapes using simple things like glasses and cookie cutters. The filling used in the ravioli was customized, using ingredients that are very commonly available in India – paneer, salt, spinach and nutmeg, for instance, among other things.

The hands of both chefs flew as one shape after another emerged – from the classic round and square shapes of the ravioli to the very exotic ‘mezzaluna‘ (‘half moon’ in Italian.

The ravioli cooked in boiling water tasted absolutely fresh and amazing, a far cry from the out-of-a-store-bought-packet pasta I have had so far.

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Top left: The fettucine pasta that the chefs dished up for us, made from scratch; Bottom left: The fettucine pasta being cooked; Top right: The pasta machine that the chefs used, and how the fettucine was made using it; Bottom right: Fettucine pasta being made by hand

Next up, Chef Basaldella demonstrated how to use the pasta machine to make thin strips of fettucine, from the sheets of dough he had prepared earlier. Chef Di Filippo showed us how to cut out strips of fettucine from the dough, using a sharp knife.

The fettucine was then cooked in boiling water and served with Chef Basaldella’s signature basil pesto sauce. Oh my God, was this delicious or what?!

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Left: Broccoli being shredded; Centre: Chef Basaldella’s version of broccoli pasta in the making; Right: A tasting portion of broccoli pasta for us

Next up, we were witness to a demonstration on how to cook dry pasta out of a packet (excellent-quality pasta that came all the way from Italy, specially for the workshop) with broccoli, Chef Basaldella’s way. Chef Basaldella cooked dry pasta along with shredded broccoli (in the absence of the Italian ‘rabe‘), in boiling water. The sauce was very simple – just olive oil, garlic, a little of the shredded broccoli and some of the pasta water. Again, another delectable, delectable dish!

The workshop ended with a sampling of this gorgeous pasta, and a little question-and-answer session with the audience. It was amazing to see just how humble both the chefs were, ready to answer any query. This was followed by a delicious high tea courtesy of Onesta and Inner Chef, the relatively new food delivery service in Bangalore.

I am still reeling with all the excitement of the workshop. I can’t wait to practice all of that at home. The workshop has, effectively, changed the way I see pasta – I don’t think I can ever be eat pasta out of a packet all that comfortably now.

Onesta and Inner Chef, I can’t thank you enough for this wonderful experience.

Some notes from the workshop:

  1. Instead of making pasta dough entirely using maida, you can use a mix of 70% maida and 30% whole wheat flour.
  2. Pasta can be made without eggs as well. However, dough made without eggs might yield slightly thicker pasta and might not be pliable enough to make ravioli and the likes.
  3. A pasta machine is a good investment if you want to make pasta at home on a regular basis, and experiment with different kinds of flours. If you have made thin rotis the Indian way, though, a pasta machine might not be necessary.
  4. Use the pasta water to make the sauce. This infuses a beautiful flavour into the sauce.
  5. Pasta should always be cooked al dente, as per the chefs – cooked just enough, neither undercooked nor overcooked. Undercooked or overcooked pasta might cause issues with digestion, but al dente pasta never will.
  6. Always use only Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the best quality you can manage to find. The bottles marked only ‘Olive Oil’ aren’t really worth it, the chefs say. 

Did you like reading this post? Do tell me by dropping in a note in the Comments section.