Results tagged vinegar from David Lebovitz

Blue Cheese Dressing

iceberg salad with bleu cheese dressing

I don’t know what possessed me the other day, but there I was, and there it was—I was faced with a big mound of Iceberg lettuce heads at the market, two for one euro, so I bought two of them. Although I don’t eat it very often, I love Iceberg lettuce salad and anyone who says they don’t is probably fibbing.

People will often justify their disdain of Iceberg lettuce on nutritional claims, but in reality, leafy green salads in general doesn’t carry that many nutrients. Think about it; if you steam a plate of those fancy mixed greens, after you get rid of the water and they’re cooked down, it equals about one tablespoon of vegetables. So if you’re looking to get healthy, eat green vegetables like broccoli and asparagus. And since you’re being so prudent, you can allow yourself to bring on the blue cheese and bacon!

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Sweet and Crispy Chicken Wings

crispy Korean chicken wings

I’m always a little late to the party. For example, last week, the Super Bowl festivities took place. But honestly, I have an excuse. Actually I have a few. Since I don’t live in America, there isn’t much enthusiasm for American football around here. When I tried to explain the concept of the grandeur of Super Bowl Sunday to Romain, he gave me that typically blank stare which is sort of a signal to not even bother with an explanation, because it made my head hurt thinking about it.

pre-cooked chicken

Equally unexplainable, he asked; “Do you understand American football?” and it took me about one second to respond, “Non“. But truthfully, who on earth does? All I know is that those games seem to go on and on and on forever. One team runs a few yards and knocks down someone. Then they all take a break, walk around, talk to each other, pat a few behinds, the cameras scan the crowd, then they do it again. After a few more tackles, breaks, and changes of direction, there’s ten minutes of shaving commercials before the non-action resumes.

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How to Make French Vinaigrette

One assumption that I’m going to make about the French is that they’re not afraid to make things au pif, or “by the nose”.

utensils

I don’t know if a precise recipe for sauce vinaigrette actually exists. But if there is, I bet few people follow it very closely. And Romain is no different from his compatriots when it comes to recipes, and rules.

They are both for other people—and don’t apply to him.

adding salt salad basket

Vinaigrette is just one of those things. It’s a few simple ingredients which come together so well, when done right. Anyone can make it: you just pour, stir, marinate, then taste until it’s just right. But the salad dressings in France always taste better to me than elsewhere. So thought I’d follow Romain when he made a true vinaigrette. He was surprised at the idea of measuring anything, so I follow him through the steps, taking a few notes along with way (see Recipe, at the end) and along the way, I learned two French secrets for a great salad dressing.

One is that you must use good Dijon mustard.

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Pickled Pepper Recipe

jalapenos

I’d say a good 20 to 30 percent of my refrigerator space is given over to pickles. I love anything pickled—onions, cabbage, cauliflower, zucchini, and chile peppers. If it’s pickle-able, you’re likely to find a jar of it buried away in my far, deep recesses of my refrigerator. In fact, all of the above (and more) are in there right now, marinating as we speak. Or as I type, I should say.

Unfortunately that doesn’t leave much room for anything else, which is something I have to live with. I suppose I could start canning them, but then I’d have to find somewhere to put all those jars. But there’s no way I’m giving up a single pair of the thirty-two sets of shoes in my closet, or a single space on my groaning cookbook shelf, to give way to a place to store them.

I think I’m almost at risk of turning into one of those people who die, and afterward pictures of my apartment filled to-the-brim with stuff, appear on websites and daytime talk shows, to the horror of viewers from coast-to-coast.

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Pickled Red Onions Recipe

pickled red onions

I’m a big fan of any recipe that uses minimal ingredients—but has maximum impact.

And I especially warm up to a recipe that’s also easy to make. I like this idea so much that I wished I’d come up with the idea before the minimalistic Mark Bittman did. Because if I did, perhaps I’d be writing for the New York Times and Mr. Bittman would be sitting here pondering whether his socks were goofy or not.

But sour grapes do not make a good sorbet, although tart vinegar does makes for great pickled onions. And like any good minimalistic recipe, this is super-simple and anyone can feel like a pro-pickler in less than cinq minutes.

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#5: Goumanyat

One of the first places I went to in Paris when I was setting up house, was Goumanyat. My friend David Tanis took me there, who is a chef and lived in Paris part-time. And as I roamed through the neat shop, poked in the wooden drawers and sniffed in the jars, I was thrilled to find such a treasure trove of spices and comestibles to stock my petit placard.

saffron

Yet the real star of the show at Goumanyat is saffron, which they stock in every conceivable fashion. Of course, there’s a huge glass urn of wispy saffron threads, which one can use to flavor a tagine or even a batch of ice cream. But saffron also shows up in many other guises here, sometimes in places where you’d least expect it.

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Balsamic Vinegar in Modena, Italy

The hardest part about sampling so much good food is that it’s almost impossible to go back to eating the everyday stuff.

I challenge anyone who’s flecked a bit of fleur de sel across their food to go back to ordinary table salt. I took one taste of the cloud-like, billowy chocolate-enrobed marshmallows from Pierre Marcolini and now I can’t seem to get enough.

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A special bottle used to evaluate ‘Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale’


My first experience with real, true balsamic vinegar goes back to the time I worked with Paul Bertolli at Chez Panisse. Every so often he’d ask me for the key to the liquor cabinet (which, for some reason, I was entrusted with) and he’d pull out his little dark bottle of brown, viscous syrup.

A breathless hush would fall over the kitchen, and he would tenderly drip a few precious drops onto the dinner plates with great reverence. Although that liquor cabinet got pilfered on perhaps one too many occasions, mostly involving after-work fresh fruit daiquiris for the staff (I was definitely not the person to entrust with the key), I never did touch that little bottle.
It scared me.

So when planning my visit to the Emilia-Romania region, I decided I would be so close to Modena, it would be a shame not to visit and see what all the fuss was about. I sent a message to the Consorzio Produttori Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena who was happy to provide me with a glimpse of the process of making traditional balsamic vinegar.

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Giovanna uses a glass tube to demonstrate the varying thickness of her vinegars

I could not have been luckier to spend the morning with Giovanna Cati-Barbieri and her husband Giorgio, who may be the tallest man in Italy. Giovanna took me up to their cellar where rows of barrels are lined up, where her vinegars are aged and stored. In fact, tucked away in the attics of many residents of this city are similar wooden barrels, some hundreds of years old, where families privately make their own batches of vinegar, as they’ve been doing for generations.

Traditional balsamic vinegar is not to be confused with industrial balsamic vinegar, the acidic brown water that costs 2 bucks at the supermarket. It’s like comparing Ye Olde Log Cabin to pure, deep-dark maple syrup: there’s simply is no comparison. Giovanna, like others in town, follows traditional methods to make her balsamic vinegars, a process that’s strictly regulated and has both DOC (Denominazione di Origin Controllata) and DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta) designations which ensure the 80 member consortium of local producers follow specific quality-assured guidelines.

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Rating the vinegar

You need to have a lot of patience to make true balsamico and many of Giovanna’s barrels are stamped with her daughter’s name in hopes she’ll carry on the tradition. Although you can find balsamic that’s younger, only balsamic vinegars that are aged 12 or 25 years get certification. And as those of us getting into our advanced years, there’s certainly a good argument for the gifts that age has bestowed upon us. But more importantly, aside from the certifications and designations, these balsamic vinegars are without a doubt one of the best-tasting things you’re ever liable to put in your mouth.

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Gorgeous bottles of balsamic aged in cherrywood

The process of making balsamic begins in October of each year with just-picked Lambrusco and Trebbiano grapes. If the grapes sit for any period of time, they’ll begin to ferment, so they’re cooked right away, but to a temperature no higher than 194 degrees (90 C), which is enough to release their juices but not to cook away any of the flavor. This year, 2006, was exceptionally good for the grapes, since the heatwave concentrated the natural sugars in the grapes.

Once the grape must has been cooked, the juice is cooled, filtered, then stored in barrels, which are never filled more than 3/4’s full. Giovanna uses many different types of wood, mostly castagno but also ginepro (juniper) and ciliegia (cherry), to make special reserve vinegars, since the wood imparts a fine flavor to the balsamico.

As the vinegar ages and evaporates over the years, the vinegar gets transferred from the large ‘mother’ barrel to smaller ones, gradually and systematically, over a period of several years. If you’re lucky, some day you’ll get a chance to taste vinegar that’s over 100 years old. It’s a rare treat.

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Judy Francini, the Divina Cucina, shows off a bottle of 100-year old vinegar in Florence

As Giovanna explained, “Balsamico is a life philosophy” since the techniques get handed down by word-of-mouth, and it takes more than just reading a recipe to know how to make the vinegars; when they must be decanted, how to monitor the evaporation, and evaluationing the vinegar at various times throughout the aging process. Giovanna also explained that the barrels are used like a dowry, handed down to daughters from generation-to-generation. She’s hoping her daughter will want to carry on the tradition as well. I hope so too.

Afterwards, Giovanna led me through a tasting of her vinegars, starting with a 12-year old bottle designated by a white cap, which was grape-y, tart, and pungent-sweet. It would be perfect to drizzle over carpaccio or shards of aged Parmesan cheese. Her 25-year old with a gold cap, was far fruitier, stickier, and with less acidity and more beguiling complexity.

Then she brought out the big guns: a tray of very special bottles, including her 25-year old reserve balsamic aged in cherry wood, which I immediately envisioned dripping over a vanilla-flavored panna cotta, then I tasted another 25-year old balsamic vinegar aged in juniper wood barrels, which she said should only be served over something “very important”, like venison or red meat.

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So good drizzled over sliceds of rare beef at Ristorante Vinicio

After several delectable spoonfuls, I was starting to swoon, wondering why I had lived so long without making aceto balsamico an essential item in my pantry? Well, I’m sure it had something to do with the cost; a small bottle will set one back at least $25. But since you’re just using just a few drops at a time (don’t you dare mix it into salad dressing), maybe ½ teaspoon, it’s merely a few cents per serving. So I tucked several bottles, packed very well, in my suitcase which thankfully made it back to my Parisian pad in one piece.

In spite of the price, a stingy few drops are all you need to make a very big impact. And never mind the photo…I asked them to keep pouring, feigning trouble with my camera, so they’d keep the precious liquid flowing. But I do recommend for newbies to try a bottle that’s at least 12-years old, as there’s a substantial difference between a thin, rather uninteresting 10-year old balsamic vinegar and a luscious, velvety 12- or 25-year old. The consortium of balsamic producers use a special bottle, designed by race car designer Giugiaro, to designate the provenance of their vinegars. Incidentally, it’s the same creative team that designs cars for a well-known, very famous Italian factory nearby, too.

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Freshly-churned vanilla gelato is the perfect foil for the tart-sweet taste of balsamico

The sad news is that now I’ve developed a taste of the good life, especially for true aceto balsamico, and have been tipping it over everything around here. But balsamico is also good with fresh figs, soft young goat cheese, shards of pecorino or Parmesan cheese, dark chocolate, gnocchi, and tortellini filled with sweet butternut squash.

Acetaia di Giorgio
Via Cabassi, 67
Tel: 059/333015

Visits can be arrange by telephone or through their web site and Giovanna speaks English. Reasonably-priced, secure international shipping is available as well.

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If you haven’t spent all your euros on vinegar, stop here on your way out of Modena

Modena

To learn more about balsamic vinegar in Modena, visit the web site for the Consorzio Produttori di Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena.

Modena is a easy train ride from Florence, and the trip takes about 20 minutes making it a perfect day excursion. To visit the balsamic producers, call in advance and you’ll need to rent a car or take a taxi. The New York Times recently wrote an excellent article about the region as well.

Another, larger producer of traditional balsamic vinegar is Acetaia Bompana. Visits can be arranged in English or French as well.

Be sure to visit the Mercato Coperto Albinelli. This wrought iron-covered daily market is a must-see and is one of the best in the world. Open until 2pm.

Hotel
Hotel Centrale
Via Rismondo, 55
Tel: 059/218808

Modest lodging, smack-dab in the center of town, on a quiet street.

Restaurants

Ristorante Vinicio
Via Emilia
Tel: 059/280313

Gran Caffè
Piazza XX Settembre, 34
Simple, contemporary foods. Great lunch spot for pasta and salads, with wine bar for early evening drinks. Next to market.

Trattoria da Omer
Via Torre, 33
Tel: 059/218050
Pastas and simple trattoria fare.

Ristorante da Danilo
Via Coltellini, 31
Tel: 059/225498
Regional cuisine, including bollito misto, boiled meat dinners, dished up almost tableside. The ravioli di zucca, plump squash ravioli, are excellent.

Hosteria Giusti
Vicolo Squallore, 46
Tel: 059/222533
Tiny salumeria with a few tables hidden in the back.