If you get your hands on the highest-quality balsamic vinegar, labeled Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, savor the flavor by using a few drops at a time on finished dishes. More affordable balsamics -- with labels stamped Condimento, IGP or PGI -- can be mixed into dressings and marinades, cooked down into syrups and sauces, drizzled over dishes or even added to cocktails.
Combine balsamic vinegar, oil and an emulsifier to make a simple, sweet and tangy vinaigrette. Olive oil is most commonly used in this dressing, though you can experiment with other oils as well. Mustard or honey work as emulsifiers in vinaigrette to keep the oil and vinegar from separating. Add fresh or dried herbs, lemon juice, garlic and shallots to the dressing too.
Marinade for Protein and Veggies
Marinades tenderize and give flavor to proteins and vegetables. Just like vinaigrette, a marinade is made of acid, oil and seasonings, but a marinade doesn't have to include an emulsifier. While you can use your vinaigrette on salad and as a marinade, you can also tailor a marinade to the protein on your menu.
For instance, soak red meat and portobello mushrooms in a mixture of balsamic, soy sauce, sesame and olive oils, and garlic. These strong flavors balance well with the meatiness of beef and mushrooms. Marinate chicken in a lighter, brighter mixture of balsamic, olive oil, lemon juice and herbs.
Reductions and Sauces
Cooking balsamic down to a syrup intensifies its flavor. Simmer the vinegar in a saucepan for 10 minutes or until it reduces by half. Spoon this liquid over a plate as a base for a piece of meat, for fish or for roasted vegetables. Add red wine to the vinegar before reducing it, or bring out the balsamic's sweetness by adding a squeeze of honey and a cinnamon stick. Let this sweet reduction cool and spoon it over vanilla ice cream or berries.
Anytime you use red wine to deglaze a pan -- like after cooking a roast or pork chops -- add a splash of balsamic to give the resulting sauce some tang.
Drizzled Over Dishes
Drizzle the liquid over a salad of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil, or over avocado slices or roasted vegetables. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar to a bowl of tomato or mushroom soup or sprinkle it over a cooked mushroom or prosciutto pizza. Spoon the liquid over braised meat or risotto.
Balsamic vinegar cuts the sweetness of a fruity cocktail. Add just a splash to a berry margarita, or simmer balsamic with honey or sugar and combine the cooled liquid with lime juice, strawberries and gin. Because the vinegar complements berries and red wine so well, a spoonful of balsamic can even be used in red wine sangria.
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