Novello Unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the first batch of oil made from the year’s olive harvest.
This highly prized olive oil — Sicily’s finest — is produced in limited quantities and will likely sell out quickly. Look for it early December.
Having grown up in an extended Sicilian family, I am no stranger to olive oil. My family put olive oil on salad, used it to sauté all kinds of foods, moisturized our faces and conditioned our hair with it, and seasoned almost every single food that needed seasoning with it. We usually had large cans of Sicilian extra virgin olive oil on hand, but we still appreciated fruity olive oils from other producing countries — the Sicilian was just our “house” brand.
Whenever possible, we enjoyed unfiltered olive oil, sometimes brought back from a family member’s visit to Sicily. The unfiltered oil didn’t have the longer shelf life of filtered oil, but that really wasn’t an issue for us; we never had any trouble using it up before it began to degrade.
My mother would mash and mince a couple of cloves of garlic and the zest of a lemon and place them into a bit of the unfiltered olive oil, adding some freshly cooked pasta and just-cooked broccoli to the mix. Then she would toss everything together with another generous pour of the olive oil, grate parmesan cheese over that shiny mound of pasta, and serve it with aromatic, freshly ground black pepper. The taste of ripe olives, shining through all the other ingredients, was unforgettable.
My grandmother, born and raised in Sicily, knew how special unfiltered, fresh olive oil is. She made sure that we experienced — and appreciated — that fruity, spicy and distinctly olive-y flavor. We never cooked with the unfiltered oil. It was far too special, far too delicate to subject it to the heat of the stovetop or oven.
Novello is the most prized unfiltered oil of all. It is a first-press olive oil, made from the olives picked earliest in the season, before they have a chance to mellow in flavor. The art of knowing when the olives are ready to pick and pressing them in the traditional way is truly the mark of a great olive oil house like Bonolio, which was established in 1934 in Sciacca in the southern part of Sicily. Bonolio produces a novello especially for Rouses using two of Sicily’s most famous olives, Biancolilla and Cerasuola. The unfiltered, freshly pressed oil is the absolute freshest available. The oil’s aftertaste, lightly spicy, will be very pronounced until April; after that it will tend to soften, becoming sweeter and well-balanced.
A novello is the ideal garnish for enhancing the flavors of vegetables — right at the dinner table! Drizzling the oil on fresh tomatoes, simply sliced, allows you to savor the exquisite melding of the ripe tomato’s mineral acidity with the fruity and spicy finish of the novello. Roasted cauliflower, with it’s nutty crunch from the oven, is a wonderful vehicle to be finished right before serving with a drizzle of the rich, fresh oil. Soups — from a hearty minestrone to a cool gazpacho — are complemented by a drizzle right at the table. And a steak or roasted chicken, embellished with a sprinkling of the novello, will taste better too.
My grandmother and my mother are both gone, but their legacy — of tastes at the table, smells in the kitchen and delicious recipes — remains with me. And the anticipation of being able to reproduce those tantalizing tastes and smells — because novello is available! — is one of the joys of eating seasonally. Its robust aroma and spicy flavor evoke not only the memories of past meals, but the people with whom we once shared them. I accept this as a gift from the earth, from the store that has gone to the trouble of making this possible, and from my family. And I look forward to being able to share this Sicilian delight with my own grandchildren.