A famous Greek legend tells of Zeus offering a city to the god that would bring him the most valuable gift. Poseidon, god of the sea, produces seawater by striking the Acropolis rock; while Athena, goddess of wisdom, grows an olive tree. Recognizing the tree and its fruit as the ultimate contribution to mankind, Athena is chosen as the new ruler, and the city is named Athens in her honour.
Today, the precious olive tree and its bounty, once called “the richest gift of Heaven” by Thomas Jefferson, is no less respected than it was over eight thousand years ago, from when its first origins have been traced. Imbued with the same mythical status it was granted in ancient Greece, it’s rife with symbolism: of peace and hope, in the biblical olive branch; of fertility and prosperity. For millennia, its nutritious fruit served as everything from food and medicine to beauty aids and cultural rites. But none of the olive’s forms are quite as revered as the aromatic olive oil at its core, idolized throughout history as one of nature’s most treasured offerings.
With its complex palate and myriad health benefits, olive oil, thought to have first been cultivated around 3500 BC, is a culinary staple, elevated by chefs for its sophisticated flavour composition, which varies depending on the olive type and region. In this recipe, we use an olive oil from the Tuscany region of Italy, known for some of the world’s highest quality oils. Oil from the Lucca and Chianti areas is the most popular, with a herbaceous, slightly spicy profile.