Olive oils take on a new dimension when infused with flavors straight from the garden. Former chef Sally Schneider, who recently authored "The Improvisational Cook", relies on flavored oils to perk up the most ordinary dishes, from grilled fish to mashed potatoes.
Among her favorite combinations: basil, cilantro, and mint; the classic duo of rosemary and garlic; and saffron, which adds an earthy flare to pastas, soups, and vegetables.
For the best taste, Schneider combines oil with herbs or spices in a heavy pan over very low heat for a few minutes. "Heating extracts the flavor and activates the oil," she says. For 1 cup of olive oil, she suggests using your choice of 1 1/2 packed cups of soft, fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, mint); 1/2 cup of pungent ones (rosemary); 5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced; or 2 pinches of ground spices such as saffron (mix ground spices in about 1 teaspoon of boiling water to make a paste first, and then pour the heated oil on top). Once bubbles start to form on the surface, remove the mixture from heat and steep overnight. Strain, pour into clean glass jars, and refrigerate, where it will keep for at least a month.