Balsamic vinegar (Recipe: strawberries in balsamic)
First published in January 2007, this updated pantry ingredient post features new photos, links, and tweaks to the recipe. Just in time for Valentine's Day, this classic Italian dessert speaks the language of love.
Act II, Scene 2.
The balcony scene.
Montagues. Capulets. What's in a name?
O Rubio, Rubio,
Wherefore art thou, Rubio?
Wait a second...Rubio???
Juliet may have been talking to her beloved Romeo from that Verona balcony, but I'm talking about my beloved, my absolute favorite balsamic vinegar.
My ten-year love affair with Rubio began, as many love stories do, with a chance encounter. On one of our wanderings around the neighborhoods of Boston, my friend Candy and I stopped at Salumeria Italiana, a modern-day, old-fashioned grocery store on Richmond Street in the North End. In addition to beautiful breads and cheeses, pastas and olives, they were featuring a balsamic vinegar imported from Italy just for them. Sure, we said, we'd love a taste.
Need I say more? Now, despite living close to Providence's Federal Hill neighborhood and its bounty of Italian groceries, I have Rubio shipped to my house in rural Rhode Island. I share a case of six bottles with a friend or two a few times a year.
There are, basically, only two types of balsamic vinegar: tradizionale, made from 100 percent Trebbiano and Spergola grape must, aged in barrels for 12 years (and up to 70 years), certified authentic by the Consorzio Aceto Balsamico; and everything else. Called balsamic condiment or commercial balsamic, everything else often means a blend of must (50 percent or less) and red wine vinegar.
Rubio balsamic vinegar (condiment) is hand-crafted exclusively for Salumeria Italiana in the style of authentic tradizionale balsamico, but at a much lower price. (True balsamic is always, always very expensive. There are no bargains. It's never sold at your local supermarket. If the price is cheap, the vinegar is mass-produced.)
To create Rubio, balsamic vinegar musts that have been aging in wooden barrels 10-20 years are mixed together, yielding a rich, thick, not-overly-sweet result. If you like very sweet vinegars, try Villa Manodori; it's the favorite of several people in my cooking groups, though it's a bit too much for me.
My pantry holds several kinds of balsamic vinegar (condiment); in addition to Rubio, which I use for salads, cheeses, and other dishes where the flavor needs to shine, there's always a bottle of Trader Joe's balsamic, a great value, which is perfect for cooking, for splashing on dark leafy greens, or reducing into a syrup. Trader Joe's also sells white balsamic, made with grape must and white wine vinegar, which is lovely for salad dressings.
Shop where you can taste; I know I always say that, but it's the best way to learn. Try my beloved Rubio, or find your own favorite balsamico.
There's nothing quite like being in love.
Strawberries in balsamic
Serves as many as you wish.
1/2 cup strawberries per person, washed, stem removed, cut in half lengthwise
Rubio (or your favorite) balsamic vinegar
Place cut strawberries in a nonreactive (stainless steel, glass or ceramic) bowl. Drizzle with vinegar, and sprinkle very lightly with sugar. Mix well, and set aside for at least an hour before serving.
Serve on its own, or as a sauce over good vanilla ice cream. In summer, top with a mint leaf or two from your herb garden.
Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Strawberry balsamic bacon pizza, from Annie's Eats
Ricotta-mascarpone mousse with balsamic strawberries, from Simply Recipes
Strawberry balsamic flatbread, from Joy the Baker
Strawberry, balsamic and goat cheese muffins, from Salad in a Jar
Strawberry balsamic basil spritzer, from A Cozy Kitchen