Thursday, July 23, 2009

Olive Oil Granola

Did you read the recipe for Olive Oil Granola in the New York Times last week? It totally grabbed my attention, for I’d never thought of such a thing. I have grown much more accustomed to encountering olive oil in sweeter contexts lately, though, with Mario Batali’s outrageous olive oil gelato at Otto being a prime example. I use it liberally in my Tiger Cake, and I drizzle a judicious amount of my very best olive oil over my blush-worthy Chocolate Toasts for an additional luxurious note. But using olive oil to make granola? Well, why on earth not?

I realize that I’ve never actually made granola myself before. This is strange because I love eating it, and I’ve certainly bought countless containers of it over my lifetime, but it’s odd that it never really occurred to me to make it myself. Maybe this reluctance is partly because I always felt that granola was my grandmother’s domain.
I wonder if many other families are similar to ours, in that the various family members claim certain dishes for their own. While my mom did the bulk of the cooking when we were growing up, my dad presided over the brunch kitchen with his impossibly fluffy omelets and killer Belgian waffles. My brother has long been the master mixologist, and it should surprise nobody that I have always been the mistress of all things chocolate-related. My Grandma Owen is the official pumpkin pie baker at every holiday, and my Grandma James has a vast repertoire of scrumptious pies that are not just reserved for holidays only. My mouth is watering at the memory of the fresh strawberry pie she made in the summers, and I could just cry thinking of her delectable coconut cream pie. Because of her finesse in the pie-making realm, I’ve always been a little intimidated by pie crust, thinking that I’d never be able to approach what Grandma could do in that department!

In addition to pies, she also makes granola—lots of it, in fact. My first encounter with it was on a family vacation in Oregon years ago to which Grandma had brought a large supply of her special homemade granola for everyone to enjoy. As a kid who primarily ate Cheerios and the occasional scrambled egg for breakfast, I was totally blown away by this confetti of honey-toasted oats with nuts and dried fruits, and I devoured a huge bowlful of it each morning topped with local fresh huckleberries. I thought it was nothing short of marvelous.

Though I may not have had easy access to those fresh Oregon huckleberries in recent years, I was nonetheless delighted any time Grandma sent me a granola care package. I would savor it slowly, rationing it out to make it last as long as possible. It simply never occurred to me that I could easily make my own! But my curiosity was piqued when I read this article in the Times with its accompanying recipe by Melissa Clark, and I decided that it was finally time to get over my I-don’t-make-the-granola-in-the-family mindset.

I tossed rolled oats and nuts with a heady mixture of olive oil, maple syrup and brown sugar, with some unsweetened coconut chips and pumpkin seeds thrown in for good measure. As I stirred the mixture every ten minutes as it baked to a golden toasty hue, I was practically kicking myself for never having done this before. It was so easy—ridiculously easy, in fact—and I could hardly wait to scoop out a bowl of it for myself.

Needless to say, I’ll be making this again and again. The olive oil imparts an intriguing flavor, and I love the way it offsets the sweetness of the maple syrup and brown sugar. I used a rounder fruitier-flavored olive oil, but I’d be curious to try it with different varieties of olive oil, just to see how using a grassier-tasting oil or one with peppery notes might affect the taste. The original recipe calls for pistachios, with dried apricot slivers stirred in after the granola has finished baking, but I used almonds because that’s what I had on hand. And besides, apricot-with-almond is one of my all-time favorite pairings.

The New York Times recipe suggests topping this Olive Oil Granola with fresh ricotta and fruit, which I imagine would be delicious. I will have to try that next time, but I've been thoroughly enjoying this granola all week served on top of my favorite Brown Cow Maple Yogurt, and I don't feel like my experience has been compromised in any way. In fact, I think I may have a new favorite breakfast. And though my grandma is still the official granola maker in the family, I might just have to share this recipe with her.

Olive Oil Granola
Adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark in the New York Times, 7-15-09

The original recipe calls for raw pistachios, but I loved my variation with slivered almonds. I can imagine that pecans would be delicious, and I would love to try it again substituting dried cranberries or cherries for the apricots. Serve it topped with fresh ricotta and berries, or with your favorite yogurt.

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (do not use quick-cooking oats)
1-½ cups slivered raw almonds
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips
¾ cup pure maple syrup
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¾ cup chopped dried apricots.

Preheat the oven to 300°.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the chopped dried apricots. Mix thoroughly and spread the mixture evenly onto a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until the granola is golden brown and well toasted.

Transfer the granola to a large bowl and stir in the chopped apricots. Makes about 9 cups.

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