Simply Seasonal: Rich and complex – Balsamic Vinegar
“To a chef, one of the purest forms of inspiration is aged balsamic vinegar,” said Avondale’s executive chef, Jeremy Kittelson. “The complexity of the flavor is akin to a fine wine – deep, round, pungent, sweet and laced with nuances of wood.”When Kittelson visited Italy last fall one of his stops was ancient Modena. Along with Reggio Emilia, these two regions are famed for Italy’s unique elixir. For two thousand years, balsamic vinegar has been a family craft – a guarded technique, passed down through generations as a coveted heirloom, often included in a daughter’s dowry. Only within the past hundred years has the technique become commercialized to produce a widely manufactured item.Traditional balsamic vinegar is made from white grapes, usually Trebbiano, which are cooked and reduced to a syrup consistency. From this point, the syrup or ‘must’ is placed in wood barrels and allowed years and years of aging through a succession of smaller and smaller barrels. Like a recipe ingredient, the barrels, which are made from a variety of woods, impart their unique flavors to the vinegar. Shopping for balsamic vinegar can be tricky as its label will read similar to that of a wine. For authentic balsamic vinegar, it must be aged at least 12 years, and the label must say “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (or Reggio Emilia)” or “Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena or Reggio Emilia.” Both are protected by the Italian and European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin. Usually the price of the bottle will increase with the length of the aging.You will see balsamic vinegars on grocery shelves throughout the U.S. and many of them are of lesser quality. Commercial producers often add sugars or caramel to try to achieve the characteristic balance of sweet and tart. These less expensive products will be fine in recipes calling for a balsamic vinaigrette and mixed with a multitude of ingredients.But for purists, who want to bring a depth of flavor to a dish, head to a specialty store for authentic balsamic vinegar. Try a few drops as garnish on grilled steak, fish or pork. Balsamic vinegar is a natural with antipasto plates or artisan breads. For a dessert treat, sprinkle a little on strawberries, pears, cheese or gelato. Savor the richness and complexity it brings to the simplest foods.
2 pounds fresh beets (small or medium size) 1 tablespoon vegetable oil Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar of Modena 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled> Preheat the oven to 400 F.Wash the beets and lightly oil with the vegetable oil. Place them on a sheet pan and place in the oven. Roast the beets until they pierce easily with the tip of a paring knife. Remove the beets from the oven and let cool until cool enough to handle. Trim the ends from the beets and peel. Cut the beets into wedges and place in a serving dish. Season lightly to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle with the olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle the walnuts and blue cheese over the beets. Serve at room temperature. Serves 8.
Balsamic Vinaigrette (see recipe to right) 1 1/2 pounds small red-skinned potatoes 3/4 pound small green beans, rinsed and stem ends trimmed 1 small sweet onion coarsely chopped 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves> Prepare Balsamic Vinaigrette; set aside. In a large pot over medium-high heat, steam potatoes until tender. Remove from heat and let cool; cut into quarters. In a pot of boiling salted water, cook green beans approximately 5 to 6 minutes or until crisp tender. Remove from heat and drain. Transfer beans to a bowl of ice water and let cool. When cool, drain and cut beans in half. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, green beans, sweet onion, and basil. Add Balsamic Vinaigrette and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (This salad will hold for several days and improves in flavor. You can serve the salad chilled or at room temperature.) Serves 4.
1/4 cup high-quality balsamic vinegar 1 clove garlic, minced 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice Dash of Worcestershire sauce or to taste 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil2 tablespoons Dijon mustard Coarse salt Coarsely-ground black pepper > In a small bowl or jar, whisk together balsamic vinegar, garlic, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, and Dijon mustard. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, then bring to room temperature.
Sue Barham is the Marketing Director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur (larkspurvail.com), at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale (avondalerestaurant.com) opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa and features a West Coast-inspired, market-driven menu.
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