Villa Gabriella Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar Review and Mango Mint Salad Dressing

I am on a constant quest to find the best possible and most affordable products.  It doesn’t take much to make a great tasting dish if you’re using quality ingredients.  

A few weeks ago I was invited by Villa Gabriella to try their extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  This is a company that is dedicated to offering certified organic products, crafted in limited quantities by small, family-run Italian artisans.

This company sounded like it offered everything I value about good quality products, so naturally I was exciting to give them try...and they didn’t disappoint.  

The balsamic vinegar was packaged in a dark glass bottle.  The label indicated 100% organic balsamic vinegar of Modena.  Certified by Suol e Salute SRL, USDA Organic and IGP Indicazione Geografica Protetta.  Produced and bottled in Modena, Italy with a best before date of August 2017.  The balsamic vinegar was deep brown in color with an intense aroma and a balanced sweet and sour flavor.  

The oil too came in a dark glass bottle.  The label stated extra virgin olive oil, hand harvested exclusively from Italian organic olives, cold pressed, 100% natural and bursting with flavor. The bottle also indicated 2014 harvest with a best before date of December 2016 and certified ICEA organic, accredited control body IT BIO 006 Italian agriculture.  The oil was green-yellow in color.  It had a mild and fruity aroma and a great full-bodied flavor with a peppery sensation.

I’ve learned that finding a good olive oil can be tricky.  There is a lot of fraud in the olive oil industry.  By definition, extra virgin olive oil is produced from the first pressing of the olive fruit, which results in a high quality oil with a great nutritional profile.  However, some companies pass lower quality oils for extra virgin olive oil, or add in vegetable oils.  

Extra virgin oil is perishable.  Its flavor and aroma deteriorate after milling and bottling, and the process accelerate once the bottle is opened.  Since most common at-home tests are unreliable, it is recommended to buy olive oil as close to the source as possible.  Since there are no mills in the Midwest, I have been relying on a trusted local specialty grocery store.  

Olive oil should be bottled in dark glass to protect it from light.  Once at home, store olive oil in a cool, dark place to protect it from rancidity.  

Good oil comes in many shades, so color is not necessarily an indication of quality.  Bitterness and pungency indicates the presence of antioxidants and other healthy components found in quality oils.  However these characteristics should be balanced.  Oil should smell and taste crisp, vibrant and lively.  

The label should read “extra virgin.”  Other terms such as “pure”, “light” or simply “olive oil” may indicate the oil has been refined, which diminishes the product's flavor and health benefits.  

A “best by” date or a date of harvest is a great indicator of freshness.  It is advised to only buy oils from this year’s harvest.  The “best by” date is usually two years form the time the oil was bottled.  Quality control certification can offer further assurance of quality.  

Finally, avoid bargain prices because genuine extra virgin olive oil is expensive.  Though a high price doesn’t always guarantee quality, low prices strongly suggest on inferior product.  

Bottom line: the best way to find a good oil is to find a company that you trust.  Consider Villa Gabriella.

Here is a simple, yet unique, salad dressing that I made used Villa Gabriella extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  A friend of mine, Irina, shared the recipe, which I modified slightly.  

Mango Mint Salad Dressing

½ champagne mango
¼ avocado
1 Tbsp coconut oil
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon
Few mint leaves
Sea salt/pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender and process until smooth.  If too thick, dilute with additional olive oil.  Try it over a salad of fresh greens and strawberries.  

Black Rice Broccoli Salad

Black rice is also called the forbidden rice.  Legend has it that this ancient grain was once eaten only by the Emperors of China.  Black rice has a delicious nutty taste and soft texture.  It is high in nutritional value and is a source of iron, vitamin E and antioxidants. The outermost layer (bran hull) of black rice contains one of the highest levels of anthocyanin antioxidants found in food which may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. 

This recipe is adopted from Martha Stewart Living magazine.

1 cup black rice, cooked
1 lb. broccoli, cut into small florets
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. red-wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. dried cranberries
2 Tbsp. red onion, finely diced
Handful fresh parsley, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 425 F.
On a rimmed baking sheet, toss broccoli and garlic with 2 Tbsp. olive oil. Season with sea salt and pepper.  Roast until tender, about 20 minutes.  Remove and reserve garlic. Transfer broccoli to bowl with rice. 
Remove garlic from skins.  Place in a small bowl and mash.  Whisk in the mustard, vinegar, remaining olive oil, sea salt and pepper to taste.  Drizzle dressing over salad. Add cranberries, red onion and parsley.  Mix to combine. 

Roasted Beet and Sweet Potato Salad

This salad is hearty and filling, providing comfort on a chilly autumn day.  The mint vinaigrette is refreshing and pairs well with the roasted vegetables.  I enjoy incorporating the rich, earthy flavor of beets into my cooking, especially in the colder months.

According to Dr. Mercola, beets are high in immune-boosting vitamin C, fiber, and essential minerals such as potassium, which is crucial for proper nerve and muscle function, and manganese, which is good for your bones, liver, kidneys, and pancreas.  Beets also contain the B vitamin complex, and are especially high in folate.  They contain betaine, a nutrient which helps fight inflammation, and betalin which supports the body’s natural detoxification process. Phyochemicals that give beets their deep crimson color may help in fighting off cancer.

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta-carotene and vitamin A.  These compounds are powerful antioxidants with anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties.  Vitamin A also maintains integrity of healthy mucus membranes and skin.  Sweet potatoes also contain the B vitamin complex as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium, manganese and potassium.    

This salad would make a great side dish on the thanksgiving table.  I plan on making it for our family's annual thanksgiving brunch next week.

I adopted this recipe from Homemade for Elle.

Salad
2 beets, peeled and cubed
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. rosemary
Sea salt, to taste

Vinaigrette
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. fresh mint, chopped
Sea salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F.  
Mix the beets, sweet potatoes, coconut oil, garlic powder, rosemary and salt, making sure to coat well.  Arrange in a shallow baking pan and roast for about 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft and lightly browned.  Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.  Meanwhile, whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients in a bowl.  Pour over the vegetables, toss to coat.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Greek Salad with Lemon Garlic Dressing

This is my salad of the moment.  I cannot get enough of it and can practically live on it during the summer.  You can combine the listed ingredients in any desired proportion.  The key is the dressing.  It's tangy with a hint of sweetness.

Tomatoes
Cucumbers
Red onion
Kalamata olives
Sun-dried tomatoes
Feta cheese
Dill, fresh

Dressing:
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 – 3 garlic cloves, pressed or finely minced
3 Tbsp. lemon juice, fresh
2 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 teaspoons maple syrup
Sea salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar and shake well.  Same jar can store any leftover dressing.

Asian Turnip & Carrot Salad

Here is another turnip salad, yet this one is quite different from the one I posted earlier.  The lime juice, sesame seed oil, honey vinaigrette and cilantro are what make this salad.  If you ask me, any salad that contains cilantro is pretty great.  It gives any dish a mix fragrance of parsley and citrus.  I have been making this recipe for quite some time and no longer remember its source. 

Cilantro is a popular herb traditionally used in Middle Eastern, Mexican and Asian cooking.  It contains many compounds that are known to have disease-preventing and health-promoting properties.  It is rich in many vital vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, beta carotene, vitamins A, C and K.  Cilantro is also a good source of minerals such as potassium, calcium, manganese, iron and magnesium.  If that weren't enough, cilantro contains chemical compounds which bind to and remove heavy metals and other toxins from the body.

 Ingredients

2 medium carrots, grated
1 turnip, grated
3 Tbsp. lime juice
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sesame seed oil
1 tsp raw honey
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
¼ cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Sea salt to taste
Black sesame seeds, for garnish

Directions

  • Combine the grated carrots and turnip in a large bowl.
  • In another bowl, combine the lime juice, olive oil, sesame oil, honey, and cayenne pepper and whisk together to make the vinaigrette.
  • Drizzle the vinaigrette over the carrots and turnip and toss to coat.
  • Add sea salt to taste.
  • Cover and marinate for about 2 hours.
  • Sprinkle with cilantro and black sesame seeds prior to serving.