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When life gives you olives

Photo caption: Amanda Forman Simonelli at her home in Perugia, Italy. CODY HAMMER/Osage News

PERUGIA, ITALY- Last year when the world was thrust into quarantine many used the downtime to pick up crocheting or binging every Netflix Original, but some had a different ambition. Boredom would not consume Osage Nation tribal member Amanda Forman.

Living in Perugia, Italy surrounded by rolling hills of olive trees, Forman knew she could make the most of the natural world surrounding her and when life gives you olives, you make olive oil. Thus, Olivando was born, and Forman had the extra virgin olive oil business as a way to deflect the negativity of 2020, as well as the ingredients to make a mean tapenade.

“For the locals, olives are part of the lifestyle,” Forman said. She explained how nearly everyone has olive trees and the 30 acres she lives on has around 500 of them which were planted by her husband’s grandfather, Vincenzo.

“They'd been neglected for years, were overgrown with ivy, hadn't been pruned and even had small oak trees sprouting underneath. It was a mess,” Forman said. If only there was enough time to clean up the property — queue the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Not only was it an excellent distraction from the heaviness of the pandemic, but it was well worth the effort. We had a fantastic harvest and produced delicious oil,” she said. There was so much in fact that Forman saw an opportunity to create a pandemic pivot business and it became a hit with her friends and family back in the U.S.

Life doesn’t always go the way anyone plans. Looking several years back, Forman couldn’t have imagined living in Central Italy, but life has a funny way of shifting all expectations.

“Marco and I met at a wedding in Kansas City. He was the photographer, and I was a guest. It started with a flirtatious chat while he was taking a break, and a few years later, we were married at a medieval castle in Torgiano, not far from where we live now,” Forman said. Forman sought a change and her husband wanted to live closer to his family and in 2017 they set off for a new adventure in central Italy where they co-founded a destination wedding planning and photography business called Simonelli Studio.

Again, queue the COVID-19 pandemic where the industry they invested in essentially shut down. Forman and her husband took advantage of the downtime to visit wedding venues throughout the country and to network with other industry professionals.

“This exploration ended up being a Godsend,” she said. “Not only did we make great connections, but it exposed us to diverse areas throughout Italy and seeing the pride and tradition that goes into cultivating olive trees was inspiring.” All it took was a move to Italy and a global shut down for Forman to discover what excellent olive oil really was. She explained how many of the olive oils found in supermarkets are industrially produced and contain a blend of oils which means not only olive oil from other countries but even seed oils, like sunflower.

“Often by the time the bottles hit the shelves, the oil is already a year old. I know first-hand that our olive oil is as fresh as it gets,” Forman said of their single-origin Olio Nuovo with its bright green colors that are full of spice and an herbaceous aroma.

Forman and her husband hope to increase their yield by getting more trees in production. The business is still in its infancy and Forman said it will always be a limited production boutique operation. Although their inventory is sold out from 2020, sign up for the Olivando newsletter to know when the 2021 harvest had been pressed, bottled and ready for purchase at www.olivando.it

For some culinary inspiration using Olivando, Forman suggested her recipe for Castelluccio Lentil Soup. “Castelluccio is a small village in Umbria that sits above the Piano Grande, a large basin in the Sibillini mountains. Every year in July, the fields are brightly colored by blooming lentils and poppies. It's a beautiful sight to behold. This particular type of lentil, which has a protected designation of origin, is considered the world's finest by many chefs. They retain their shape when cooked and have a delicate, tender texture. This simple soup is a dish that allows the olive oil to stand out. Once ladled into bowls, top with a swirl of peppery olive oil. Eat along with a slice or two of warm toasted bread and enjoy,” Forman shared.

 

Castelluccio Lentil Soup 

●      1 onion, finely chopped

●      2 small carrots, peeled and finely diced

●      1 stalk of celery, finely diced

●      4 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

●      2 cups of Castelluccio (or your local favorite) lentils, rinsed and picked over.

●      100 milliliters of dry white wine

●      1.5 liters of vegetable stock, warm

●      1 bay leaf

●      1 tablespoon of tomato paste

●      Flaky sea salt to taste

 

1.     Place a large pan over medium heat. Add the oil and, when hot but not smoking, add the onion, carrot and celery. Sauté gently for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft.

2.     Add the lentils and stir to coat in the cooking liquid. Add the wine, stir and allow it to evaporate. Add roughly half of the warm stock and bay leaf then cover and allow the lentils to simmer for about 15 minutes while stirring occasionally.

3.     When the lentils have absorbed all of the available liquid, add half of the remaining stock and the tomato paste. Stir to combine and continue simmering for approximately 10 minutes.

4.     Continue adding more stock as needed and stir. At this point, it's up to the cook to decide how brothy or dense they want the soup to be.

5.     Once the lentils are tender, remove them from the heat and allow the soup to rest while covered for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.

6.     Serve topped with a swirl of olive oil, a sprinkle of flaky sea salt and a slice of toasted bread.