Cooking with olive oil

Fast and fresh ... mussels fried with tomato, black pepper and fennel seeds.
Fast and fresh ... mussels fried with tomato, black pepper and fennel seeds.

Olive oil plays such a key role in my cooking, some might say it flows in my veins. These three recipes feature ''liquid gold'' in liberal quantities to give a rich mouth feel in very different dishes.

Mussels fried with tomato, black pepper and fennel seeds

This simple but flavourful dish takes minutes to prepare. Use supremely fresh mussels.

100ml-120ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra
5 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tbsp fennel seeds, roughly ground
12 small, ripe tomatoes off the vine, sliced in rounds
1½ tsp black pepper, freshly crushed
1kg large black mussels, cleaned and debearded
100ml white wine
1 handful fennel fronds
3 large slices sourdough cut lengthways, toasted or grilled and rubbed lightly with garlic

1. Place a large, deep-sided frying pan over high heat. Add olive oil and fry garlic and fennel seeds for two minutes.

2. Add tomatoes and lots of black pepper and cook for one minute to soften.

3. Add mussels and wine, cover with a lid and cook for two minutes. Shake pan and cook for a further two minutes.

4. Check all shells are open. If not, force them open in your hand with a pair of tongs, using a tea towel to protect your hand. Remove mussels from heat, toss through fennel fronds.

5. To serve, pile mussels on toasted sourdough, reduce juices if needed, pour over juices and drizzle with a little extra olive oil.

Serves 4

Drink Pinot grigio

Greek olive oil beans with fetta

Broad beans are in season at the moment and can be eaten with the skins on. This dish can be served hot or at room temperature. Enjoy it with poultry, grilled meats or on its own.

100ml extra virgin olive oil
300g green beans, tops trimmed, tails on
1 ½ cup podded broad beans
4 eschallots, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 long red chilli, finely sliced with seeds in
1 tin crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp castor sugar
1 bay leaf
Sea salt and pepper
1 handful fresh oregano, leaves torn
100g firm greek feta, crumbled

1. Place a medium heavy-based frying pan over medium heat.

2. Add oil and both beans, cook for four minutes then add eschallots, garlic and chilli and cook for three minutes or until golden brown.

3. Add tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes until vegetables are tender.

4. Sprinkle with oregano and feta and serve.

Serves 4

Tip This recipe is also an excellent way to cook baby okra.

Drink Unwooded chardonnay

Dark chocolate olive oil cake

This is divine - don't wait for a special occasion to make it. Olive oil replaces butter and gives the cake a large, soft crumb. Store in an airtight container.

4 eggs
175g castor sugar
175g brown sugar
1½ tsp vanilla essence
330g self-raising flour
100g dark cocoa
270ml olive oil
90ml milk or a little more

For ganache (optional)
220g quality dark chocolate
80g unsalted butter
100ml cream

1. Preheat oven to 180C (170C fan-forced). Line a 24-centimetre square or round cake tin with baking paper.

2. Using a whisk beater, beat eggs and sugars until pale, then add vanilla.

3. Sift in flour and cocoa, fold through a little, add olive oil and milk and mix well. Pour into prepared tin, smooth top and bake for 45-50 minutes. Test with a skewer - it should come out with crumbs on it. If it comes out clean, the cake is overcooked.

4. Remove cake from oven and cool for five minutes. Remove cake from tin and cool completely before dusting with cocoa or smothering with ganache.

5. For ganache, place chocolate in a bowl over simmering water and melt. Stir through butter until melted. Add cream and stir to combine. If it thickens too much when removed from heat, rewarm briefly, spread over cake and serve.

Serves 8

Drink Espresso coffee or a glass of cold milk.

This story Cooking with olive oil first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.