Consumers discouraged by a barrage of news reports that make it seem almost every food they love is bad for them -- milk, coffee, eggs, butter, burritos, and kung pao chicken, just to name a few on recent hit lists -- can rejoice in a bit of good news.
Olive oil is good for you. It's especially good for women, a new report says, because "alone among fat types," olive oil appears to reduce the risk of getting breast cancer. The assessment is based on a study of women in Greece, where olive oil is widely used in cooking.
The incidence of breast cancer in Greece is 40 percent lower than it is in the United States, where one in 10 women can expect to develop the disease. The study in Greece found that women who had consumed olive oil several times a day were far less likely to have gotten breast cancer than women who consumed olive oil just once a day or less.
According to the study's author, Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulis of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, part of the reason may be because olive oil is less easily oxidized than polyunsaturated fats and contains lots of antioxidant vitamins and other compounds, including vitamin E.
The news is especially good for cooks, because olive oil is delicious and versatile. It's true it's 100 percent fat, so people who are watching their weight will still have to be careful about calories, but olive oil can be substituted in almost any case for other fats that are less beneficial.
Olive oil comes in three different varieties: full-flavored extra virgin; milder 100 percent olive oil; neutral-tasting light or extra light. Baltimore-based Pompeian, Inc., which imports olive oil and bottles it for sale across the country, offers these tips on substituting olive oil:
* Use extra virgin olive oil on bread (even morning toast) and in marinades and vinaigrettes, where the olive taste is desirable. It also can be used in baking flavorful savory desserts such as carrot cake and pumpkin bread.
* Use 100 percent olive oil on steamed vegetables (especially good if you provide lemon wedges for diners to splash on a little lemon juice) and in muffin recipes. Also can be used with milder-flavored foods, such as delicate fish or veal.
* Use light or extra light olive oil in light sauces, pound cake and drop cookie recipes.
Use of olive oil has also been linked to lowered incidence of atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and high blood glucose. Want more information on olive oil and nutrition? Call the Olive Oil Hotline, a project of the International Olive Oil Council and the Cornell University Medical College Nutrition Information Center. The number is (800) 232 OLIVE-OIL (use the letter O when dialing). Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern time Monday through Friday.
Here are some recipes to get you started thinking about ways to use more olive oil in your daily diet. The first two are from Pompeian.
Serves 10 to 12
1 2/3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup milk
2 cups grated carrots
2/3 cup pecans, chopped
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Sift first 5 ingredients. Mix with the next 4 ingredients and beat for three minutes. Add carrots and pecans.
Pour batter into 10-inch greased and floured cake pan.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool slightly, then turn onto rack and cool completely. May be frosted if desired.
Marinated Lamb Brochettes
24 cubes of spring lamb
1 large red onion, cut in 1-inch pieces
2-3 green peppers, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
Mix all marinade ingredients in pan large enough to hold skewers. Alternate lamb, onion and green pepper pieces on skewers and marinate over night.
Broil, grill or saute skewers for 5 minutes on each side. Should be served rare.
The next two recipes are from "Italy: The Vegetarian Table," by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books, 1994, $19.95).
Pasta and Lentil Soup
6 cups water
1 1/4 cups ( 1/2 pound) dried lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, scraped and cut into small dice
2 celery stalks, leaves removed, cut into small dice
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes in puree, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus salt to taste
1/4 pound spaghetti, broken into 1-inch lengths
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground fresh pepper
In a soup kettle, combine water, lentils, onion, carrot, celery, garlic and tomatoes. Add olive oil, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until lentils are tender, about 1 hour.