How to use olive oil: This healthy fat can add shine and flavor to meals throughout the day

Oct. 20, 2021
Learn how to use these assorted olive oils
Extra virgin olive oil from several countries means many possible flavors for both cooking and eating. Learn how to use olive oil in meals throughout the day. Photo by Bill St. John.

Despite the wealth of offerings of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) at our grocery stores, we shouldn’t get the idea that all are suited for the same purpose in our kitchens. Not each is suited for coating leaves of lettuce in a salad. Likewise, not each is to be heated in a skillet at the beginning of a given recipe.

EVOO is more profitably considered as a condiment, in the way it is consumed in cultures other than our own. We have ketchup; the rest of the West has EVOO.

To illustrate EVOO’s use as a condiment (with it also being used to cook with heat), let’s take a gander at eating throughout the day in a soup-to-nuts tour of sorts, EVOO at every step. (I assume that you have no inordinate or misinformed fear of fat, but do realize it’s helpful, indeed healthful, place in your own diet.)

How to use olive oil from eggs to salads, with bread and even desserts

Cooking eggs in EVOO, or in a combination of it and butter, adds a tremendous amount of ancillary flavor to mere butter alone. Poaching foods in EVOO that are suited for various courses of a daily meal (eggs, perhaps, but certainly fish, vegetables or fowl) isn’t wasteful of the oil if it’s strained and kept back for further, future uses in the same method. Plus, again, the flavor bests water or, often, bouillon.

Read other great articles and recipes by Bill St. John.

Coating cutup vegetables (or whole heads or other forms of larger vegetables such as cauliflower or whole beets) in EVOO and then roasting them is well-tried. Such preparations are delicious, of course, served hot or warm, but also make for tasty leftovers at room temperature, as their own small meal or snack.

Of course, there are salads, of so many sorts—slathered or simply coated with dressings founded in EVOO and all the flavors, perfumes, even textures, that EVOO can raid from the pantry to augment its already buoyant taste. Some focused cooks prefer the simplest salad to be constructed of lettuce only and dressed in EVOO only.

Midday, serve fresh cheeses such as milky mozzarella or Neuchâtel dressed with EVOO (and perhaps some aged balsamic). You might make your own sort-of sushi by thinly slicing raw tuna or salmon (other fish are possibilities, too) in what the Italians call “crudo,” always drizzled with EVOO and further flavored with lemon juice and zest and perhaps capers.

Clearly considering EVOO as a condiment, it shines in later-day food preparations that are typically served on the warmer side. Drizzle it on a finished steak or piece of broiled or baked fish, in just the same way you’d employ a steak sauce or tartar sauce. (Nothing wrong with these latters, but EVOO is a fine changeup if you’re in the mood.)

Top popcorn; top pizza, make EVOO and garlic alone as sauce for pasta (“aglio e olio,” if you enjoy vowels).

We now are aware of EVOO’s use as a dip for bread or focaccia. But heat it and dip into it raw vegetables in the Italian dish called pinzimonio, or as the fondue-like bagna cauda (“hot bath,” in Italian dialect), EVOO rich with anchovy, butter and garlic.

Any soup, stew or cassoulet is vastly improved with a swirl of EVOO on its top in the bowl or on the plate (or in warmer seasons, even chilled soups). A Spaniard would consider a gazpacho unfinished were it not to have a small river of liquid green coursing over its surface.

EVOO even figures in dessert. Some vanilla ice creamers scream for EVOO to top their scoops (not much, merely a bit; try it). And as the recipe below attests, EVOO is a main flavoring and the major moisturizer for a great cake.

Olive Oil Cake

By Samantha Seneviratne in The New York Times. “This simple, lemon-scented olive oil cake is an elegant treat all by itself or topped with whipped cream, fruit or ice cream. The olive oil contributes a pleasant fruity flavor while keeping the cake moister for longer than butter ever could. Make sure your olive oil tastes delicious and fresh. If you wouldn’t eat it on a salad, it won’t be good in your cake.” Makes 1 9-inch cake.


1 cup/240 milliliters of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan

2 cups/255 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 and 1/2 cups/300 grams granulated sugar, plus about 2 tablespoons for sprinkling

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 and 1/4 cups/295 milliliters whole milk, at room temperature


Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan using extra-virgin olive oil and line the bottom with parchment paper. Oil the parchment and flour the pan, shaking out any excess flour.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In the bowl of an electric mixer set on high, beat the sugar, eggs and lemon zest until very thick and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer still running, slowly drizzle in the oil and beat until incorporated, another 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add milk and lemon juice. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smooth the top using an offset spatula and sprinkle the top with about 2 tablespoons sugar.

Bake the cake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool for 20 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to release the sides of the cake from the pan. Invert the cake onto a plate and then flip it back over onto the rack to cool completely. Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.

Notes: The recipe’s “Cooking Notes” section includes comments favoring a “springform pan” over a regular 9-inch cake pan, noting that the latter is “too small for this recipe” but that in using a springform pan, “The batter fit perfectly.” Other notes: “I bake it at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, then check for doneness every 5-10 minutes. Perfect. 375 degrees is too high,” “Used almond milk or cashew milk with good results,” “Unsweetened almond milk instead of regular milk,” and “Almond extract and orange zest and juice instead of lemon.” Finally, “Extra batter makes delicious pancakes!”

Reach Bill St. John at [email protected]


About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.