Last-Minute Guests? This Appetizer Only Requires Pantry Ingredients And A Fresh Loaf of Bread

Transform olive oil and herbs into a company-pleasing bread dipping oil in five minutes or less.

olive oil

Abigail Wilt

I’d like to think of myself as a host who can time a menu perfectly, but, more than once, I’ve been faced with the knock of dinner guests and the sinking realization that my appetizer still has fifteen minutes left in the oven. Eek!

When I need to quickly pivot and give guests something to munch on before other dishes are ready, I rely on the simple—yet incredibly effective—magic of bread dipping oil. Versatile, inexpensive, and wildly crowd-pleasing, a crusty loaf of bread paired with dressed-up olive oil often yields wide-eyed glee and remarks of, “Wow, this is so good!” All it takes is three to five minutes of prep, a few ingredients from your pantry or the back of your fridge, and the forethought to grab a loaf of fresh, quality bread from your local bakery just in case. It’s good to know thyself.


Abigail Wilt

Factors To Consider Before Starting

  1. Pick a good olive oil. Olive oil is the star of the show, so a poor-quality oil will undermine your efforts. I like to use extra-virgin olive oil (flavorful and untreated) as my base, but a regular or light olive oil (refined and lighter in color with a more neutral flavor) also works nicely. Dip your finger into a little bit of plain olive oil. If you don’t like the taste as-is, it will not serve as an adequate foundation for your dipping oil. Unfortunately, there is no masking overly bitter notes of a bad olive oil. Over time, if not stored correctly, olive oil can also turn rancid. Double check for any sour aroma or cloudy discoloration before serving it up to guests!
  2. Incorporate texture. A little crunch is a welcome surprise in contrast with other textures at play: the softness of the inside of the bread, the crispness of crust, and the smooth, silkiness of the olive oil. Elevate your dipping oil with textural variety by adding dehydrated onion flakes, flake salt, crushed red pepper, or a few pinches of chopped fresh herbs.
  3. Don’t forget the salt. Not all salt options belong in your dipping oil. Salting an oil is a balancing act—too much salt will overwhelm the other flavor profiles, but not enough salt will leave your appetizer feeling unfinished. Put down the fine table salt and choose a coarse or flaked variety instead, sprinkling on top to spread out the granules. When I have it available, I glam up my dipping oil with a smattering of Maldon sea salt flakes. Flakes of salt—as opposed to smaller, more rounded granules—play double-duty in adding both flavor and texture. Flakes take up more real estate, providing a satisfying little “crunch” that is lost with finer salt varieties.
  4. Mix-and-match herbs. Dried and fresh herbs have different levels of flavor concentration. Dried herbs are usually stronger and hold up their flavor through longer cooking times. Fresh herbs add an incomparable finishing brightness to a dish and shine in raw applications—like your bread dipping oil. Whichever you have on hand will work, but remember the one-to-three rule: One part dried herbs yields about the same amount of flavor as three parts fresh herbs. Example: Swap one teaspoon of dried thyme for three teaspoons of chopped fresh thyme.
  5. Choose your dipping vessel wisely. Leave deep soup bowls in the cupboard. Opt instead for the flattest bowl you can find or a plate with some depth. If your bowl is too deep, dense spices will sink to the bottom, meaning that guests will be dipping into a lot of plain oil before getting down to the good stuff (which will be highly concentrated once that oil disappears). A flat bowl means optimized surface area, which results in better circulation and flavoring of spices. On a practical note, more guests can dip at once.

Four Easy Combinations To Serve

No time to prepare? When company is coming, try these unique and flavorful variations to serve.

Classic Oil & Vinegar Dipping Oil

  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • A pinch of coarse or flake salt
classic olive oil

Abigail Wilt

This trusted combination hits all of your taste buds: subtle bitterness from the oil and sweet-and-sour acidity from the balsamic, finished with a salty crunch. I recommend two to three parts olive oil to one part vinegar. Top-shelf balsamic makes all the difference; look for one from Modena, where makers have been perfecting balsamic for over four hundred years. You can also play around with flavored balsamic vinegars, often found at your local olive oil shop, to come up with unique oil-and-vinegar variations. In the summer, I love lightening up this dipping oil with a fruity white balsamic.

Easy Italian Dipping Oil

  • Olive oil
  • Italian seasoning
  • A pinch of coarse or flake salt

For this traditional flavor profile, I use about one heaping teaspoon of seasoning per 1/2 cup of olive oil. It’s a familiar hit—guests know exactly what they’re going to get when they go in to dip. This dipping oil comes together in about two minutes and is a consistent, classic blend of typically basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram. I’d also recommend trying with Greek herb seasoning, which adds herbs and spices like dill, parsley, garlic, and onion (occasionally mint) to those listed in the Italian blend.

Restaurant-Style Italian Dipping Oil

  • Olive oil
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Crushed red pepper
  • Dried parsley
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder (or dehydrated onion flakes)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • A pinch of coarse or flake salt

Looking for a dipping oil that reminds you of your favorite Italian restaurant? Try this elevated version, which requires a bit more measuring than its easy counterpart (plan for five minutes, instead of two). I recommend whisking all of your dried herbs together before adding olive oil to ensure harmonic distribution. Per 1/2 cup of olive oil, I added 1/2 teaspoon of each ingredient excluding the crushed red pepper, of which I added 1/4 teaspoon to mitigate spiciness. If you have a few more seconds to spare, a clove of garlic, minced shallot, finely chopped fresh rosemary, or freshly grated parmesan takes this dipping oil into prime, high-compliment party dip territory.

Olive Oil with Capers

Abigail Wilt

Mediterranean Olive Dipping Oil

  • Olive oil
  • Finely chopped olives
  • Finely chopped capers
  • Za’atar
  • Lemon zest (or even better, sumac)
  • Garlic powder
  • A pinch of coarse or flake salt

This fragrant olive dipping oil pairs earthy za’atar with common Manzanilla olives (packed in water, if possible, so you can control the saltiness), briny capers, and zingy lemon zest. Castelvetrano olives—sweet, buttery green olives—also work well and tend to be less polarizing for guests who don’t love olives. Kalamata olives (or olive tapenade, which minimizes prep time) yield a more dominating olive flavor. Per 1/2 cup of olive oil, I use 1/4 cup chopped olives, 2 Tbsp. capers, and 1 tsp. za’atar, lemon zest, and garlic powder. This dipping oil really pops with the addition of a clove of fresh garlic and, if you happen to have it on hand, some sumac—a Middle Eastern spice with citrus-like tang.

What To Do With Leftover Dipping Oil?

  • Jazz up a marinade. From roasted chicken to shrimp skewers to grilled vegetables, there’s no need to waste oil. Coat your meat or vegetables of choice and watch those flavors shine straight from the oven or grill.
  • Call in crudités. Dipping oil isn’t constrained to bread. Think colorfully! Fresh vegetables are one of my favorite things to dip in a robust, layered oil—crunchy carrot sticks, spicy radishes, and slices of raw yellow squash all provide a vibrant, sensory contrast to the heaviness of olive oil.
  • Brush it on. If you have more than five minutes before your guests arrive and also a bit of soft goat cheese on hand, I beg of you: Make crostini. Brush your dipping oil over small pieces of bread, toast ‘em, slather on some chèvre, and drizzle with a bit of honey. The marriage of flavors is divine!
  • Save it for breakfast. Drizzle herby dipping oil over a poached or fried egg and sliced avocado on a piece of nutty toast—the more seeds the better, for added crunch—and serve up a restaurant-worthy brunch dish.
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