Anise-flavored Beet Salad

Being Macy's California culinary consultant was like working in a foodie Disneyland.

Affectionately called Mama Macy’s by my staff, Macy’s was the culinary center of San Francisco. Williams-Sonoma had yet to open its first store in the city, and budgets (and CEO egos) were big. I was given carte blanche in setting up cooking demonstrations in Macy’s Cellar with every well-known food entity in the country.

As the culinary consultant, I often gave a series of demonstrations. Large stage, mirrors, speakers, a few hundred guests in the audience — big doings.

One demonstration was on olive oils, different types from different countries, showcasing the various flavors, viscosities, etc.

As I was happily chatting about the oils, I explained the term extra virgin olive oil and how it is produced. As an aside, I told the audience that I was from Northwest Missouri and when I was growing up there was no extra; you either were or you weren’t. (Always had a problem with a somewhat irrepressible personality.) Well, the crowd broke into laughter. However, I quit laughing as soon as I saw the brand-new uptight Macy’s CEO watching. As was later explained to me in his office, maybe it was funny but not appropriate for Macy’s.

So no more extra jokes, but some favorite olive oil recipes.

Vermicelli Salad

This simple dish is from the Naples area in Italy. Perfect for summer, it makes use of tomatoes and basil at their peak. Serve room temperature as a salad or hot as a first course.

  • 8 to 10 ounces small, ripe plum tomatoes
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon dried leaf oregano, finely crumbled
  • 8 ounces vermicelli

Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise, squeeze well and remove seeds. Cut each half again lengthwise. Put in large bowl, add 4 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, basil, salt, pepper and oregano. Let stand one to two hours at room temperature.

Cook vermicelli in large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, add to tomato mixture and add more olive oil if needed.

Rosemary-Olive Oil Potatoes

Tossing fresh rosemary into warm potatoes in olive oil is one of the most delicious things to do with either the herb or the potatoes. I often serve these bite-sized potatoes in a rustic ceramic crock, easily served to a large crowd.

  • 20 to 25 tiny new potatoes, unpeeled but well washed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • About 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea) for sprinkling

Steam potatoes until just tender, remove from heat. Gently heat olive oil in a skillet with rosemary and add potatoes, coating them well and letting them heat through and very lightly brown in spots.

Let cool, then sprinkle with a small amount of salt.

Anise-flavored Beet Salad

  • 1 pound red beets
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon crushed anise seeds

Roast or boil beets until tender. Peel, cool and cut into 1/2-inch slices.

Cut slices into quarters. In medium bowl, mix the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, stir in onion and anise, then gently mix in beets. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve; the salad gains in flavor when kept for several hours (or days) in the refrigerator.