"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

Isn't that a nice photo? I didn't take it! Patti at Worth the Whisk did, and it's a post that's actually about strawberries with black pepper and balsamic vinegar, though it's not from the Gourmet Cookbook. Thanks, Patti! May your blog thrive.

So here's another recipe from the Fruit Desserts chapter, and although you might think that this is an easy one to knock off, you'd actually be wrong--that is, if you want to get it right.

Why? Because it calls for one very special ingredient, which is aged balsamic vinegar (preferably aceto balsamico tradizionale). People, this is not the balsamic vinegar you buy at Stop N Shop.

Now, you can kind of fake it (and restaurants do, all the time) by reducing balsamic vinegar with a little sugar until it's thick and syrupy. This works fine!

Or you can keep your eyes peeled until you find a store that sells this stuff, or something close to it.

But wait! I hear you cry--What's the Big Deal about balsamic...aceto...whatever it is?

Well, my little chickies, if you were to traverse Italy you'd discover it's a VERY big deal over there, and it's partly a product thing, and partly a proprietary thing. You know how sparkling wine can't be called Champagne unless it's actually produced in the Champagne region of France? That's because the winemakers of Champagne went to the mat to get that to be a LAW, and it's like that with many food products--traditional, artisan, regional makers of food fighting for the right to not have that name be co-opted by Kraft or Gallo or whoever. (WHOMever, grammar nazis!)

Parmesan cheese is another one--if it ain't from Parma, it ain't Parmesan. It's just "aged".

So getting back to balsamic vinegar--this from Wikipedia:

Only two consortia produce true traditional balsamic vinegar, Modena and Reggio Emilia. True balsamic vinegar is made from a reduction of syrup from sweet wine grapes, called "Mosto Cotto" in Italian, which is subsequently aged for a minimum of 12 years in a battery of seven barrels of successively smaller sizes. The casks are made of different woods like chestnut, acacia, cherry, oak, mulberry, ash, and, in the past, juniper. True balsamic vinegar is rich, glossy, deep brown in color and has a complex flavour that balances the natural sweet and sour elements of the cooked grape juice with hints of wood from the casks.

Reggio Emilia (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia) designates the different ages of their balsamic vinegar by label colour. A red label means the vinegar has been aged for at least 12 years, a silver label that the vinegar has aged for at least 18 years and a gold label that designates the vinegar has aged for 25 years or more[2].

Modena (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena) uses a different system to indicate the age of their balsamic vinegars. A cream coloured cap means the vinegar has aged for at least 12 years and a golden cap bearing the designation extravecchio shows the vinegar has aged for 25 years or more[2].

Did I fly to Italy to get this stuff? No, actually I was up in Newburyport with O'Malley for a little day trip, and we decided to picnic down by the waterfront. So we went to a highly acclaimed (thanks Chowhound!) place called the Grand Trunk Old World Cheese Shop, and they happened to be having a vinegar tasting.

Anyway, long story slightly shorter, I ended up buying a small bottle of 8 year-old balsamic vinegar, which was the oldest they had. It cost $30, but my paycheck was burning a hole in my pocket so it was just one of many things we bought that day-gourmet chocolates, spicy chorizo, aged cheddar, smoked herring, a crusty baguette, and a German beer that I stealthily poured into my Sigg water bottle.

Here's O'Malley eating smoked herring:

Then I decided I didn't get enough of the yummy picnic food so here's a wider shot:

I really am getting back around to Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar. Really! But I just want to note that real true aged-more-than-12-years balsamic vinegar costs a bajillion dollars, and unless I go to Italy and get some on a dessert or something, odds are very slim that I (or you) will ever taste it. Or maybe you work for Gourmet and that stuff is in the pantry?! Maybe. Who knows?

But the 8-year stuff isn't bad--it's sweet and rich, and I like my book group enough that I decided to share this dessert with them.

Now, alas and alack, my strawberries were not the finest local strawberries, sweet, sunkissed and warm. No, they were those big honking strawberries from CA that are mostly red, mostly tart and some sweet, firm and well-formed. I got three quarts of those, cut them up, and tossed them with the aged balsamic, sugar, and freshly ground black pepper.

Yes, pepper! Don't look at me like that. It's good!

I served them whipped cream and because I still can't bring myself to give my book group desserts that don't involve either chocolate or flour I brought some cookies too. They loved it! Or, they SAID they loved it. Maybe they have low standards.

I liked the strawberries very much, and I used the leftovers all week long on arugula for a nice summery salad.


Stick said...

Thanks for the Recipe! My girls are going to love it.

Georgia said...

I love California strawberries. They are in season now and I buy two big packs at a time. Delicious!