The Olive Harvest Cookbook: Olive Oil Lore and Recipes from McEvoy Ranch

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Chronicle Books

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This luscious cookbook -- full of glorious recipes for making the most of extra-virgin olive oil -- is a feast for both the eyes and the palate. In 1991 Nan McEvoy planted 1,000 olive tree seedlings on her ranch in Northern California. Today, 18,000 trees later, McEvoy Ranch is highly respected for its fine extra-virgin olive oil. Also producing lavender and honey, and maintaining an extensive kitchen garden, the ranch -- entirely organic -- has evolved into a virtual paradise, replete with heirloom vegetables, fruits, and olive groves as far as the eye can see. With this wealth of ingredients, ranch chef Gerald Gass has created more than 70 recipes combining extra-virgin olive oil with the best the garden has to offer. Comforting soups of winter squash with honey and sage; hearty pasta dishes with olives and tomatoes; savory pork tenderloin flavored with red cherries and spices; crunchy lemon biscotti -- these olive oil-infused recipes are simple to prepare and draw on the fruits of nature as their main ingredients. Stunning photographs of the olive groves, gardens, and recipes make The Olive Harvest Cookbook a lovely gift for anyone who has ever dreamed of living off the land in their own little piece of Eden.


Gerald Gass
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Chronicle Books
The Olive Harvest Cookbook: Olive Oil Lore and Recipes from McEvoy Ranch
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Jacqueline Mallorca

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This is a book about the McEvoy Ranch, an organic olive ranch in California, and about the work of the ranch's resident chef, Gerald Gass.  Mr. Gass has a job many chefs might envy he cooks for a set audience of owner Nancy McEvoy and her friends, has an on-premise kitchen gardener supplying him with a steady stream of fresh and varied produce, and has a chance to know his clientele and cook to their tastes, rather than needing to please a new bunch of strangers every night. The philosophy of the ranch, with its emphasis on water conservation and sustainable techniques, is appealing. His book is attractively produced and beautifully illustrated. So why, at first examination, does The Olive Harvest Cookbook  seem a little bit soulless?

My guess would be that this is because a continual audience of one proudly Californian woman and her friends has led to a cuisine that could best be described as ur-California. Recipes such as "Spaghetti with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, currants, and capers" and "Spit-roasted pork with lavender, honey, and bay" simply couldn't come from anywhere else.  The first glance produces a subconscious sense of "I've seen this before and gone on to other things." I would urge readers to hang in and try a few recipes, because this is good food, regardless of origin. We treat our culinary fads cruelly, once they're over. Whole cuisines are rejected because they got overdone. Overused chic ingredients are discarded or consigned to the back of the pantry, no matter how venerable their culinary history. Well, haul California off that back shelf and give it another try. There was always more to it than goat cheese salads. Good California food has a sense of place. 

Let's re-examine that "spaghetti with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, currants, and capers." Okay, it's a mélange of all the cliché' Mediterranean ingredients. But here's the thing: it tastes good. Sun-dried tomatoes are not just an American former fad, they're an old Italian staple, and you might be surprised how good they taste when you haven't had them for a while. The warm and complex flavors are equally suited for summer or fall eating, and a healthy and pretty dish that comes together in no time is not to be sneered at.  Another meat recipe, "Lamb chops with red onion marmalade on celery root puree," uses pomegranate molasses in a very California style, and it works.  The red onion marmalade is nice stuff to have around to garnish impromptu sandwiches. 

One recipe uses an interesting technique but doesn't seem to come together.  The "pan-seared salmon with olive oil emulsion" calls for a sauce made by reducing fish fumet with a little wine, shallots, and a few fennel seeds until reduced from 4 cups to ¾ cup, then whirring the strained reduction in a blender with an almost equal volume of olive oil until a fragile emulsion forms.  The emulsion performed as advertised, but the flavor seemed awkward and unbalanced. Thinking that the olive oil might be the deciding factor, I obtained McEvoy olive oil and tried it again. Same results. My guess is that you have to be obsessed with the flavor of this olive oil to eat this sauce with pleasure.  My other argument is with the advice to use fresh California bay leaves one recipe calls for 20 of them. A hint of eucalyptus is not a pleasant thing in food, and a lot of it is even worse. Use the Turkish true bay leaves if you try this recipe. 

In summation, this cookbook can be seen as an evocation of one woman's personal taste, and some aspects of that taste may not be generally shared, but don't write it off as a whole. The world could use more places like the McEvoy Ranch, where the growers strive earnestly to heal a little piece of the planet as well as they can. 

Recipe: Spaghetti with Sundried tomatoes, Olives, currants, and Capers


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