MY — April 2012
Simply Nutritious and Delicious
Healthy Cooking 101
For the past few months I’ve talked to you about how to make healthy whole foods (not processed foods) tastier. I suggested ways to do this by experimenting with different salts (coarse-grain sea salt or kosher salt), fresh cracked peppercorns (black, white, pink, and green), and freshly dried cayenne pepper as we turn up the heat in our kitchens and our cooking. We talked about using fresh herbs, and I mentioned how I prefer using only extra virgin olive oil to cook with; I also use it as a condiment in finishing my dishes.
Another condiment that is a staple in my kitchen is balsamic vinegar. There are many different qualities of balsamic vinegar, and not everything labeled balsamic vinegar is the real thing. There is only one “real” balsamic vinegar, and that is the kind made in Modena or Reggio Emilia, Italy, and called “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale.”
It is made using the Trebbiani and Lambrusco grapes from the region. The juice from these grapes is cooked down and then aged in different types of wood wine barrels for 3 to 25+ years. The age determines the thickness, and the type of wood barrel it is stored in determines its flavor. Real balsamico is thick, sweet, and dark. Not only does it make everything on which it is used taste better, but it is also loaded with vitamins and nutrients. The price for real Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale from Modena will range from $75 to $125 or more, depending on the age. The smaller the bottle, the older the vinegar, and the more expensive it will be. This is where the expression “black gold” comes from: this liquid is worth its weight in gold.
There are three basic age groups of balsamic vinegar, and each is used differently in Italy. The youngest group, 3 to 5 years, is good for salad dressings, dipping sauces for vegetables and bread, and sauces and marinades.
The middle age group, 6 to 11 years, is more viscous and quite versatile. At the end stages of cooking, add it in sauces, risotto and pasta dishes, marinades, and mix it with mayonnaise or sour cream for a sandwich condiment.
Well-aged balsamic vinegar (12 to 25+ years) is best used after the cooking is finished, and in otherwise mild dishes (nothing spicy or heavily seasoned) so it can shine on its own. Use it to flavor chicken, steak, pork, or fish. It is well-suited to fruit and cheese pairings, such as strawberries, peaches, and pears, along with ricotta or feta cheese. In a tiny amount, it may be enjoyed by itself, or added to water or sparkling water for a refreshing beverage.
I usually use the younger ones, 3-7 years old, because of the price. I will use them in each of the ways listed above: on salads, pastas, risottos, and drizzled on cheese, chicken, fish or meat, just before serving. Balsamic vinegar is amazing on fresh strawberries, pears and peaches. A teaspoon in a glass of sparkling water makes a refreshing nonalcoholic drink.
And last but not least, I take a teaspoon a day as a vitamin supplement. Through the years balsamico has been used for medicinal purposes. Here’s a funny quote which was heard time and time again in 16th century Italy: “Darling, unlock the balsamico. That Medici cousin of your swine nephew just gave me a nasty sword wound.”
Other vinegars I also have on hand in my kitchen are white wine vinegar and a white cream balsamic vinegar, which is not really a balsamico, but very tasty just the same. As they say in Italy where everything tastes better, buon appetito!
Contact Dawn about her upcoming oil and vinegar tastings at AskDawnNow@aol.com