|Photo courtesy of Fran Hogan|
Well, here it is again, another Vinegar Friday. Yesterday while I was in my office working, the smell of stew wafted upstairs, tempting me with its voluptuousness. By the time we sat down to dinner, the ingredients, harmonizing in perfection (if I must say so myself), were in direct contrast to some of the so-called singers auditioning to be the next American Idol. Perhaps they just needed a dash of balsamic vinegar. After all, it proved to be the key ingredient in the stew.
If you have not discovered the virtues of balsamic vinegar, perhaps it is time to do so. This is one vinegar I am not going to extol because of its superior cleaning properties, or its ability to heal. This is vinegar that gets my highest praise based on taste alone.
Oddly enough, those of us living in North America have only recently discovered this gem over the last twenty years or so. It is the Italians who have reaped the rewards of knowing its value for centuries.
While many believe it to be a wine vinegar, the truth is balsamic vinegar is made from unfermented grape pressings from the white Trebbiano grapes. What makes true balsamic vinegar so costly is the aging process it must go through, starting with the dark syrup (a result of boiling down the grape pressings) in oaken kegs, where it remains, literally, for years. Eventually it is transferred to ash, cherrywood, chestnut, juniper and mulberry kegs, with each wood adding its unique properties to the vinegar. If you want to splurge on the most expensive balsamic vinegar, you can experience the flavoring of vinegar that has been aged for over one hundred years in Northern Italy in Modena. Let me know if you go that route!
Of course, you get what you pay for, so if you opt for the least expensive balsamic out there, expect to find sulfites (used as a preservative). As this can lead to an allergy problem in those with sensitivities to sulfites, watch out. There are sulfite-free balsamic vinegars available. You just have to pay a little more. What you want to look for are the words aceto balsamico tradizionale, indicating the traditional Modena aging and processing has been used.
Even without the preservatives, balsamic vinegar has a long shelf life. As a matter of fact, its shelf life is infinite. Just keep it away from heat.
If you are generally not a vinegar fan, try boiling some balsamic vinegar for awhile. What you will end up with is a sweet, non-acidic liquid that you will soon find yourself craving. Especially if you experience what it does to fruits, such as strawberries, raspberries or peaches when sprinkled with small amounts. Oh my. One word of caution, however: make sure you are not heating the vinegar in an aluminum pan or storing or marinating in an aluminum container. You want to use materials that are non-reactive.
What I discovered last night was how a splash of balsamic vinegar truly brings out the flavor of each unique component of stew. It leaves me wondering why I have never reached for this magic ingredient when cooking before. It is astonishing what a couple of teaspoons of it can do to liven up the flavor of stews, soups or sauces. If you are opting for low sodium, but not quite so yummy, canned soups, adding a touch of balsamic vinegar might be the very thing that takes the soup from okay to amazing.
So now that I have you adding balsamic vinegar to your grocery shopping list, I thought it would be nice if I provided a couple of recipes, starting with a barbecue sauce that would be delicious on wings for your Super Bowl party.
Balsamic Barbecue Sauce
1 1/2 cup ketchup
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup light-colored corn syrup
1/2 cup finely diced onion
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Cayenne pepper to taste, optional
Bring all the ingredients to a boil in a non-aluminum saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally.
Prepare wings as you normally do, brushing with sauce during the last 10 minutes of cooking time.
Now this next recipe may not be for Super Bowl Sunday, but it sure would be a tasty addition to a roasted chicken meal or a vegetarian meal.
1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dried dill or marjoram
1 pound fresh carrots, sliced
Bring the vinegar to a boil in a small, non-aluminum saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and keep the vinegar at a slow boil, reducing it to a thick, syrupy 3/4 cup or so.
Combine the next 3 ingredients in a bowl and add carrots. Toss gently to coat the carrots with the mixture. Remove carrots and place in a steamer. Steam for 15 minutes, or until slightly soft.
Heat the remaining oil mixture in a non-aluminum skillet. Add cooked carrots. Brush with the balsamic vinegar syrup and lightly brown.
Does that sound delicious, or what?! I think we're having carrots tonight!
Enjoy your weekend. And enjoy your new recipes. Mangia!
Keeping it tasty with vinegar,