Project: Spicy Oil

Flavored oils are easily attained in your own kitchen.  Try poaching a head of garlic in a giant pot of oil someday instead of roasting it in the oven.  You'll get the same sweet, delicious garlic and a pot of garlic oil for bread-dipping to boot.

Flavored oils are attainable by hot or cold infusion.  Hot infusion is the faster method: you do something like poaching garlic or hot peppers or (sturdy) herbs and then blend and strain the results.  I adore this cold infusion method (which actually uses the heat of the sun), however, as you end up with a bottle full of pretty in addition to great food.

Oils aren't just for dipping.  The obvious other choice is dressing--a friend used this oil and a maple balsamic to make a killer spicy-sweet vinaigrette.  You can dress pasta as well as greens--mild cheese ravioli with a spicy drizzle can give a dish the life it needs.  Use it in a stir-fry.  Use it to enhance another sauce.

There's plenty to do and much to go around.  I'm leaving a recipe for spicy oil here but you can easily take any combination that suits your fancy.  Add citrus zest.  Add the incredibly excessive numbers of flowers your basil plant insists on producing.  Whatever.  Just use more than you think you need!  It'll reward you with a magnificent potency.

Of course, this is a project. I love kitchen projects, which, in my mind, are different than recipes. When you are bound to wait at least a few weeks for something to finally be ready, it's not a recipe. This oil, which I chose to do by cold infusion, is by necessity a project. Plus, it's beautiful, what with all the whole spices floating about inside the bottle.

Spicy Olive Oil

1 (500 ml) bottle oil

(Don't bother with the good stuff; the heat will override any natural flavor.)

7 or 8 whole, dried chilies

4 sprigs rosemary

3 clove garlic, smashed

3 tsp red pepper flakes

whole peppercorns

I prefer to work with a bottle I've emptied into another vessel, but at a minimum you should be displacing the top third of the liquid to ensure there's no overfill

Using a funnel, roll peppercorns into the bottle until you have approximately 3/4-1 inch settled at the bottom. Add red pepper flakes and garlic.

Bend the chilis a little to open up their oils and feed them into the bottle; don't damage these too much. They're part of the looking-pretty bit I mentioned earlier. Do the same with the rosemary, crushing the piney leaves a bit and breaking the stem in a couple of places to release their oil and scent.

Place the oil in a sunny window for at least a month, or more if you're feeling patient. Turn gently about once a week to evenly distribute the flavors.

Use to saute, dip bread, marinate, etc.

Note: You may want to select a light colored glass if your original bottle was not such so you can better enjoy the arrangement once it's sitting in your kitchen.  Refrigeration will extend shelf life; the oil can last for months.  It will appear cloudy in the fridge but will clear up at room temperature.

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