A simple, wholesome ingredient like olive oil has the power to take a dish to the next level, and all you have to do is tilt the bottle toward the finished dish.

By Ananda Eidelstein
Updated January 11, 2019
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This Is the Best Way to Use Olive Oil for Cooking
Credit: Corey Olsen

You’re likely used to seeing recipes call for olive oil at the beginning, not at the end. But what if I told you that drizzling a finished dish with olive oil will make your meal taste better every single time? It’s true. And the best part is, this rule applies to pretty much every food, even dessert.

You may be thinking, “But olive oil is just olive oil, right?" False. The type of olive oil you want to drizzle on a finished dish is the good kind. Note that nowadays when we call for or talk about olive oil, we’re looking at extra virgin olive oil, which is current day status quo and the highest standard. But not all extra virgin olive oil is created equal.

Shopping for olive oil can be confusing. With so many options, it’s easy to reach for the most affordable bottle. And although bottles of inexpensive olive oil can still be pleasant, there’s a big difference between an olive oil that’s tolerable to cook with and an olive oil you want to drizzle on a dish right before serving. This past fall, I was lucky enough to go to Tuscany and visit the olive groves of Laudemio–producers of olive oil by the Frescobaldi family with a family tree going back 1,000 years in Florentine history–and learn first-hand how quality olive oil is really made.

At the time of harvest, the olives, a mix of three different types, Frantoio, Leccino, and Moraiolo, are meticulously picked just before they're ripe in order to maximize taste and nutrients such as polyphenols (micronutrients we get through plant-based foods that are rich in antioxidants). Part of what makes this oil such high quality is that the olives head to the frantoio nearby, the place where the olives are milled, and get pressed on the same day they're harvested. Then, the emerald-green oil (a gorgeous color I've never seen before in oil) is twice-filtered and expertly tasted to ensure the public only sees the best of the harvest ($77 for two bottles; amazon.com).

The olive oil bottle has the harvest year printed on it (rare for olive oil). It's assertive and fresh, with a scent similar to freshly-cut grass. Freshly-pressed oil has a peppery kick that, over the course of a year, naturally decreases in intensity, becoming less pungent. This is the type of olive oil I want to drizzle on a dish right before I set it on the table (or dip bread in constantly, which I did in Italy)–one that will add a layer of flavor and depth, as well as richness to a dish.

The lesson here is, if you don’t have a finishing olive oil in addition to cooking oil, you’re missing out on an opportunity to make every meal you serve better. A bowl of comforting pasta, like this Orecchiette with Red Onions, Almonds, and Green Olives, is a no-brainer when it comes to finishing it off with a nice drizzle of olive oil. Even a red sauce pasta would benefit from it. A warming plate of risotto deserves some good olive oil at the end, too. But it goes beyond pasta (and crusty bread, mozzarella, or burrata-anything). Drizzle good olive oil on seared steak, roast chicken, roasted vegetables, grain bowls, and easy poached fish. I even like to finish open-face sandwiches with a splash of the good stuff, as well as luscious dips like labneh or hummus and creamy soups.

It doesn’t end there: Desserts love olive oil, too. Top a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream with olive oil and a sprinkle of flaky salt for a luscious treat, or check out this Lime-Olive Oil Custard. (Warning: It uses more than a drizzle.) Chocolate, as you may already know, is another fan of olive oil. Drizzle the stuff over chocolate mousse or these cakes and you can never go wrong.

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Olive oil is a healthy fat and naturally loaded with antioxidants when it’s of good quality. And olive oil is compatible with popular diets like the Whole30 or keto. In fact, it's encouraged. So, have fun experimenting and keep your finishing olive oil fresh with these simple tips.