Marcella wrote about cooking with olive oil on Facebook and her thread received many comments.  We share her thoughts with you and a few comments from her “friends” with whom she intereacted.  We welcome more discussion.

A great deal of nonsense about cooking with olive oil has been navigating the blogosphere. I am happy to bring to your attention Sara Jenkins’s sensible, well-grounded effort to shine truth onto this issue. It all comes down to taste, that mysterious quality that culinary schools do not trouble to teach. If you understand and possess taste, you will have no trouble accepting that taste is what good olive oil brings taste is what good olive oil brings to cooking.” Thank you.

She received 67 responses.  We give only a small selection and her responses to them.

Warren Bobrow Never us EVOO in cooking food. The flash point is just too low. what you end up with is scorched olive oil. And what is the point with that? I use a lower grade olive oil for heating and an expensive EVOO for finishing a dish.

Marcella Hazan Oh, Warren, Warren! Why must you loft that canard again about EVOO having too low a smoke point for cooking? The smoke point for good quality EVOO is around 200° C, which is more than hot enough for frying. The interesting thing is that the cheap oil you are recommending has a lower smoke point than EVOO. What is vulnerable here, Warren, is not the oil, it’s the truth. It’s only myths that are tough. Do you know what really matters in the end? It’s how the food you cook tastes. There is no more powerful agent for good flavor than genuine EVOO.

Beatrice Ughi how interesting. i just ended 2 weeks of demos of ev olive oils at several whole foods stores. i must have met hundreds of “educated” customers. one of the most common question was: can you cook with it? is it dangerous? being italian and having always used ONLY ev olive oil, this was a big surprise to me. grazie for this thread.

Nathalie Dupree So where does that leave the average consumer? I promise you, the olive oil available to me in Charleston, SC, does not heat to 350 degree and leave a good flavor. i wish it were not true. I remember fresh olive oil in Spain, where I lived on an olive oil finca, and in other countries — Italy, among others — but I cannot find an olive oil here to compare to my memory.

Marcella Hazan Shall we sort out some of the issues here? There is too much talk about frying. Frying happens to be my favorite and most natural way to cook, but there is a great deal more to cooking than frying. There is braising, and stewing, and sautéeing, and baking. When you are cooking vegetables for a braise, a stew, a minestrone, a sauce, a torta rustica, nothing you can use has the flavor of a good EVOO. Mushrooms and greens in particular come fully to life only through the magic of a good olive oil. And in none of those instances, does that bogey man, the smoke point, enter in consideration.

But to get back to frying. Put the frying thermometer away and pour a genuine, fresh, EVOO into the pan. The smoke point? Fuggedaboudid Warren Bobrow! Here the questions are only about logistics and finances. Where should you buy your oil? Not in any supermarket, although there may be some in California, in particular Darrel Corti’s, that may be exceptions. I haven’t been to them in many years, so I cannot say. Otherwise, buy oil from a reputable specialized food grocer or online source. What you choose may depend either on what you demand or what you are able to spend. Even people with deep pockets seem unable to overcome resistance to the price of choice, estate-bottled oils. Yet it is the most important ingredient you can have in your kitchen, and nothing replaces it. If lacking deep pockets, follow Sara Jenkins’s sage advice, and buy EVOO from countries like Greece that produce a fine oil without the international prestige and high ticket of Italy’s estate bottlers.

Let’s not be olive oil snobs, however. On its own terms, EVOO has no competition, but to be absolutely frank, it is not the only fat for the kitchen, and you can limit its use – while keeping a lid on your food budget – to those cases where it is irreplaceable. I am from Emilia-Romagna in the north of Italy, and in the north we don’t shrink from using butter. There would be few occasions when I would make a risotto with anything else. One of my most popular and successful recipes is my sauce of tomatoes, onion, and butter. As for fried potatoes, nothing can top leaf lard. For mayonnaise, which is always homemade, I have grown to prefer vegetable oil because in it I find the intensity of olive oil too distracting.

David Zappelli We made olive oil mayonnaise in Italy, whereas I found it to be quite fabulous. Some people say it’s too strong and others don’t like the weight or the color. Again, I find that criticism was nonsense. Anyway, there’s many ways to make mayonaisse, all good.

Joshua Ozersky I always knew this was true! It does change the taste a little I guess, but who cares?

Karen Epstein Roseth When I cook with olive oil, I always use extra virgin and have been doing so for years. I also cook with butter. It depends what I’m preparing. I am a home cook.