Our friend Nancy Harmon Jenkins, a very talented food writer and journalist, just published an article that filled us with joy and flavorful memories. Nancy starts off with a point that is quintessential to the Italian cuisine:
Like thousands of cooks all over the Mediterranean world of healthful and delicious food, you can indeed cook with extra-virgin [olive oil]. And you should!
This quote alone makes the whole article worth reading. If you know us, you have heard us say these words infinite times. But Nancy does more than just giving cooking advice. In her article, she recalls all the times she actually used EVOO for frying and how heavenly the result was.
And in Beatrice Ughi’s kitchen on the island of Stromboli, I had another lesson in deep-frying, this time using a very fine Pianogrillo oil, made from Sicily’s Tonda Iblea olives—Beatrice brings it into the U.S. through her importing business, gustiamo.com. We fired up the kettle of Pianogrillo while an island friend whipped together the batter to make sfinci, fried sweetened dough shaped into dumplings and deep-fried to a crisp (you might know these better as zeppole). Crisp and crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside, they were sprinkled while hot with cinnamon sugar and eaten—also while hot—almost by the handful.
There are many reasons why EVOO is the best fat for frying food. First, because it gives food an unparalleled crunchy texture and wonderful aromas, that Nancy and Beatrice enjoyed with those fried sfinci. But there are also health reasons.
Extra-virgin olive oil in fact, because of its unique chemical composition, has much greater heat stability (thermal resistance is the technical term) than almost any other fat. A low quantity of free fatty acids (and that’s that treasured measure of quality in extra-virgin) means lower oxidation when the oil is heated.