Chef’s Apprentice Files: What Else Can I Do With Infused Olive Oil?

If you have dined out at an Italian restaurant any time in the last decade, you probably have had the pleasure of dipping a loaf of warm bread into a bowl of seasoned olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. What you may not know is that infusing olive oil is an easy way to garnish and give depth to a number of dishes.
Restaurant chefs often have more than one squeeze bottle of chili or herb-infused oil on hand to add color to a dish. A swirl or dots of red or green on a finished plate requires no cooking school training and is an easy way to impress dinner guests. 

What home cooks may not know is that replacing plain olive oil with a home-infused oil can add layers of flavor to otherwise ordinary recipes or take a dish from good to great.
Here are some simple swap-out ideas:
1. Spoon a little over a fresh vegetable soup and add a dollop of goat cheese.
2. Add to cooked pasta along with fresh grated Parmesan cheese, grated citrus and a chiffonade of fresh herbs for a simple pasta sauce.
3. Use instead of plain olive oil when making vinaigrette.
4. Toss with grilled vegetables and add a squeeze of lemon.
5. Brush on slices of French bread before broiling.
6. Add to a bowl of cooked white beans or chicken chili for a colorful and flavorful garnish.
7. Drizzle over pizza right out of the oven.
8. Use to baste chicken for roasting or grilling.
9. Finish your next stir-fry or fried rice with a swirl of homemade chili oil.
10. Paint on sandwich bread for your next grilled sandwich.
Basic Herb-Infused Oil
1 bunch of fresh herbs, such as sage, thyme, rosemary and/or basil
3 cups of extra virgin olive oil
Remove the leaves from the stems, discarding stems. Place the leaves in a mortar and pestle and bruise the leaves to release some of the oil. Add leaves and olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pot and warm through for about 30 minutes over very low heat. This will release more of the flavors in the herbs. Then remove from heat and allow to cool completely before placing in a clean, quart-size jar.
You can also place warmed olive oil and bruised herbs in a jar and leave in a sunny window for a couple of weeks instead of heating on the stove.
Store the jar in a cool, dry and dark place for a few days. Once the flavor profile is right, the leaves can be strained out. The bottle can be stored in the fridge. The oil will last about 2 or 3 months.
Note: A simple chili oil can be made by heating 2 cups of olive oil over low heat with about 4 teaspoons of crushed red chili flakes. Heat gently for about 5 minutes. Or alternatively, gently sauté fresh chopped chilies in oil for about 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely and then store in a glass jar with lid in the fridge for up to one month. 

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