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July 15, 2008

Balsamic vinegar (Recipe: mango-mint gazpacho) {vegan}

Balsamic1

You're not going to believe me when I tell you there is no balsamic vinegar in The Perfect Pantry.

Of course there is, you will say.

You write about balsamic vinegar all the time, you'll point out. And look at the label on the bottle. It says balsamic vinegar. Of Modena. It-a-ly.

You won't be wrong, exactly, but you won't be absolutely correct, either.

Every year, only 3,000 or so bottles of true balsamic vinegar are designated aceto balsamico tradizionale and given the Denominazione di Origine Protetta (D.O.P.), the seal of authenticity from the consortia of Modena and Reggio Emilia.

Each of those 3,000 bottles has aged for a minimum of 12 years, many for 25 up to 100 years.

True balsamico is made not from wine, but from unfermented Trebbiano grape pressings, boiled down to a dark syrup. The syrup is placed into oak kegs, along with a "mother" or starter, usually a bit of previously aged balsamico. As it ages, the vinegar is decanted to smaller and smaller kegs made of a variety of woods -- chestnut, cherry, ash, mulberry, and juniper -- each of which adds character and flavor to the vinegar. Over time, moisture evaporates from the kegs, thickening the vinegar and concentrating the taste.

The resulting vinegar, the true tradizionale, proudly carries the D.O.P. mark on the label. And it doesn't sell for $6.99. (If you want to taste the real thing, without mortgaging your home to buy a bottle, try this lovely little sampler from Zingerman's. Or mortgage the house for this.)

Balsamic2

What we outside Italy call balsamic vinegar is often really balsamic condiment, a blend of grape must and red wine vinegar. (See the label? No D.O.P. No tradizionale.) In Italy, this would be called condimento. The quality varies from maker to maker, depending on the quality and blend of grape must and wine vinegar used.

This is the balsamic to use for cooking, and, if it's a very good condimento like my favorite Rubio, to use on salad, with strawberries, on bruschetta, on beets, or drizzled on chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Mango-mint gazpacho

A fruity twist on the classic summer soup. Serves 8-10.

Ingredients

2 slices of day-old Italian bread, crusts removed
3-4 large tomatoes, very ripe, cut into chunks
1-2 Kirby (pickling) cucumbers, seeded, cut into chunks
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, seeded, cut into chunks
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded, cut into chunks
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cut into chunks
1 ripe mango, peeled, cut into chunks
2 tsp mint leaves, chopped (or more to taste)
1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup V-8 juice
Black pepper, to taste
2-3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, optional

Directions

Tear bread into chunks and soak in cold water for 1 minute. Remove, and squeeze out the water. Add bread to a large stainless steel bowl, along with next 10 ingredients. Using an immersion blender (or in batches in a regular blender), puree the mixture until it is a pleasing soup-like consistency, but still with distinct bits of vegetables. Add balsamic, V-8 juice and black pepper, to taste. Stir in the olive oil. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour, or overnight, to allow flavors to mingle. Serve cold.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]


Also in The Perfect Pantry:

Gazpacho
Chilled asparagus soup
Slow-roasted tomato bruschetta
Smoky spicy salad dressing
No-cook summer antipasto

Comments

wow I certainly didn't know that the real stuff cost so much! =O I never fail to learn something new everything I visit your blog :)

So informative, Lydia! I knew the real thing was very expensive, but hadn't realized just how much rigor and control is involved in producing it.

Thanks for the information Lydia, just bought a new bottle of Balsamic Vinegar not knowing the truth about it. What I bought will have to do, as I can't mortgage the house for a kitchen fix.

I love this "condimento", Lydia - it goes so well over roasted tomatoes!

Very informative post! A very generous friend of mine sent me a bottle of the good stuff for my birthday once; it was so much better than what I usually buy at the supermarket. Now I know why. Thanks!

I thought that real balsamic was also made in homes for personal use, one of those legendary fluids renewed with raw materials when the cook used a few drops of the aged product. Is it true that during WWII air raids, refugees escaped endangered buildings with their family's aging balsamic?

I had no idea there was real Balsamic vinegar! I love Balsamic vinegar. I may have to put a bottle of the real stuff on my Christmas list. Then again, maybe not. There is a bottle for sale on Amazon.com for $1,325!

I think I have one itzy bitzy bottle of 30-yr old balsamic. I use it very wisely. I nearly had a heart-attack when my nephew thought it was soy sauce and was about to sprinkle it on his food!

I do love my Fini, even though I know it's comdimento! Still, the real thing is certainly special when you can get it. This sounds just delicious!

I bought one of those expensive bottles from Zingerman's as a fancy gift- and my jaw dropped when I saw the size of the bottle- teensy weensy. I like to reduce my cheapy balsamic and add a bit of sugar to give it more of the "money" flavor.

All I knew and still know is: I've never had the real deal and oh how I would love to.

I used to stock balsamic in my pantry but found myself under-using it. Now, I get excited when I get a plate of extra virgin olive oil+balsamic to dip fresh baked breads in eateries :)

Thanks for the mango mint gazpacho recipe. It'll be sure to impress.

At some point in my life I'll try a *real* balsamic vinegar...until then, I'm happy with my little bottle of almost real balsamic vinegar...

Just used some in my strawberry sauce. Mmmm...

j

Wiffy, real balsamic takes so many years to make, and that's why it's expensive. Really expensive!

Ann, it's a process. I'd love to visit a balsamico maker some day.

Kim, so many of the condimento vinegars are really, really good, and much more affordable.

Patricia, I agree! And I drizzle it on mozzarella sandwiches, too.

Christina, you are so lucky to have such a generous friend.

Mae, I don't know if it's true, but I hope so -- what a wonderful image. I do believe that the vinegar "mother" is kept alive for many, many years, and passed down through families.

Paula, wow! If all of the readers of this blog chip in, maybe we can afford one bottle of that vinegar. It's either incredibly good, or incredibly overpriced!

Veron, your poor nephew -- did you gasp, or scream?! I would have done both. A 30-year-old balsamic must taste quite wonderful.

Kalyn, I adore my Rubio condimento, too. It's always about finding a taste (and a price range) that works best for you.

Callipygia, when my sampler arrived, I was surprised, too -- the bottles are tiny, but just enough to give you a taste of four different ages of balsamic. Reducing the less expensive down into a syrup works really well. Hooray for Trader Joe's -- they are a great source of that inexpensive condimento.

MyKitchen, it is a treat -- and not something I keep in my pantry. The really good condimento is good enough for me.

Tigerfish, now balsamic is one thing I'll never be able to be without. I use it for so many things -- on cheese, strawberries, in soup, even in tomato sauce.

Jude, I do hope you'll like it. The soup is very summery!

Jasmine, I'm so happy with my Rubio, and with this Trader Joe's condimento, and sometimes even pretty good stuff from the supermarket. There's always room for more than one bottle in my pantry.

Oh yeah, I saw how much the real stuff costs when we were in Italy. But the taste is amazing...if you can afford it! We do have a very small bottle of it in our pantry, but it is saved for special occasions.

I do hope that you get some of this to add to your pantry soon!

I brought some of the 'real balsamic' back from Assisi on my last visit, it's so so good. The one we have is 25 years old and next time we go I'll invest in a 50 year old one I think. It is definitely worth the cost.

I remember my parents coveting their bottles when I was a teenager! Mom brought me a small bottle last time and I have been sniffing it more than using it, but you know what...we only lived once and tomorrow is made of things we don't know about yet! Can't see a better way than to use it up for this lovely gazpacho!

Balsamic is one of those things I've never really come to terms with and find it difficult to use, maybe I need the good stuff!

Have you ever had a bottle of wine vinegar in the cupboard and the original mother magically appears? The first time this happened, I though the vinegar had somehow gone off, but now know better.

Ah, this is the stuff they tell you to buy up when you're in Italy so you can dole it out with an eyedrop at home!

WORC, I've had tiny bottles of the real stuff from time to time, but I found a condimento I really love (Rubio), and that will hold me until my next bottle of tradizionale (maybe from next trip to Italy). Hope you have many special occasions!

George, I can't even imagine how good a 50-year bottle would taste. Amazing...

Tartelette, the really good balsamic, drizzled on some strawberries -- it does not get better than that. Bon appetit!

Neil, that has never happened to me -- did the vinegar just separate, or mellow, or age? And did you use the mother to start more of your own vinegar? That would be great fun, though I wouldn't really know how to go about it.

TW, the real stuff is the stuff you use in the tiniest amounts. What I love about the condimento is that, even with the good condimento, you don't feel that it's too precious to use. I will bring you some Rubio when I come to NYC!

No, it's not separated or anything nasty, but the original bacteria forms a new floating blanket if they can get a foothold; it probably meant that the vinegar hadn't quite had enough time under the mother, though it was fine to use. I had a friend who made his own wine vinegar and gave me some of his mother that originally came from France; it's still in the cupboard as I've never got around to doing some myself, it's not hard though.

Sadly I am allergic to tomatoes. I had hoped by the title there wasn't going to be any...oh well.

I think I may have had a teeny-weeny bit of the real stuff on my gelato with roasted strawberries when I was in Italy. I remember my friend making a big deal out of it, trying to convince me about how dear it was!

Neil, thanks -- this is great information and I'll check some of the older (ahem...) bottles of vinegar in my pantry to see if any have some mother in them.

Peabody, sorry about that. Nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers) seem to be everywhere when you can't eat them.

Nora, strawberries and balsamic -- and especially if it was the tradizionale -- are my absolute favorite pairing. Lucky you!

Interesting. I had heard of Modena vinegar, but didn't know the story behind it or the difference.

Betty, rest assured that even the condimento from Modena can be quite delicious stuff, so please give it a try if you find it in your market.

Just made your MANGO-MINT GAZPACHO. So wonderful and surprising.

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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