The first time Theo Stephan drove up the coast from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara wine country, she immediately knew she had to live there. So she left her Hollywood marketing job behind to plant some olive trees and start her own company, Global Gardens. Thirteen years later, she's producing award-winning extra virgin olive oils, some of the best you can find in Southern California.
And with her new cookbook, Olive Oil and Vinegar For Life: Delicious Recipes for Healthy Caliterranean Living, she proves that you can use them in just about anything--even pie.
Consider Stephan a pioneer. She was the first to plant olive-producing trees in Santa Barbara County, and now has more than 2000 in her Los Alamos and Los Olivos groves. Global Gardens produces about eight to 10 different oils, and is just now producing single varietal extra virgin olive oils.
"When you buy olive oil in the store, all it says is that it's extra virgin olive oil. It's a blend" says Stephan. "But when you buy wine, you buy by varietal. We're doing the same with olive oil."
This means she selectively harvests olives based on color and ripeness, which affects the final product. Even terroir matters, much like wine. For example, Stephan's primary grove is surrounded by California sage brush in the foothills of Los Alamos. "You can really taste that sage essence in the oils from that grove, " she says. "The same varietal is grown about 30 miles up the highway, but it tastes differently."
This is probably one reason why Global Gardens won six awards at the LA County Fair, which holds the world's largest olive oil competition. "There are oils from Tunisia, Italy and Greece, from all over the world, submitted to this competition, and we took home the most awards for Southern California," she adds.
Not only does Stephan bottle extra virgin olive oil, but she also makes vinegars, jams, spreads and other gourmet foodstuffs to sell in her Los Olivos store (and online). And she incorporates a lot of it in her newly released cookbook. "People really want to learn about how to cook with olive oil," she says. "There's so much you can do, even fry in it. And it's great in desserts."
While it adds a ton of flavor to turkey, sweet potatoes and pastas, the Mission Manzanilla extra virgin olive oil, which has hints of sage, is actually elemental to her pecan pie recipe. She uses it instead of butter in the crust and in the filling. "It just complements the sweetness so well," she says. The pie and other dishes were served at a special dinner at Akasha Restaurant in Culver City, and even chef Akasha Richmond couldn't believe how delicious the pecan pie was. "After testing the recipe she said it was one of the best pecan pies she's ever tasted. It was so great to hear," says Stephan.
You can find the recipe in the cookbook--but we also have it below. And if you're in Los Olivos this weekend, try it at the cookbook tasting party this weekend (Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 29-30).
Perfect Pecan Pie
Recipe adapted from Theo Stephan and Olive Oil and Vinegar for Life
Makes 1 pie
For the crust:
1½ cup organic sifted all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or Grand Marnier (Armagnac or cognac work fine too)
1/3 cup Global Gardens Mission/Manzanilla Blend Extra Virgin Olive Oil, frozen into ice cube trays
3 tablespoons very cold milk
In a bowl, mix the flour and salt with a fork. Place the bowl in freezer for about 20 minutes. Remove and make a well in the middle of the dry mixture, and add olive oil cubes and milk. Mix well with a fork but do not overmix. Form into a ball and roll out on wax paper. Turn crust out from the wax paper onto a non-greased pie dish. (Note: this recipe does not work well on a tin pie pan--glass or ceramic please!)
For the filling:
2/3 cup organic sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup Global Gardens Mission/Manzanilla Blend Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup organic maple syrup
1½ cup organic pecans, chopped
Preheat oven to 350°. Using a stand mixer or whisk, beat the eggs, sugar, salt, olive oil and maple syrup until blended. Pour into the uncooked pie crust and add pecans. They will naturally float to the top and stay there when baked. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the middle of the pie is set and does not jiggle. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.