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Marilyn Harris

My Balsamic Vinegar Recipes

My Balsamic Vinegar Recipes

When is vinegar not vinegar?  Answer: when it’s Balsamic or, as it’s  called in Italian,  “Aceto Balsamico.” I don’t meant to confuse the issue further, but it actually is a type of vinegar, but  made with a unique process and ends up looking and tasting  like no other vinegar in the world.


On a recent trip to the beautiful city of Modena, Italy, the home of this exotic condiment,  I observed first hand  the production of this famous vinegar. We visited the home, vineyards and production facility of the Pedroni Family.  They have been dedicated to making this precious liquid for 147 years and produce some of Italy’s best.


It all starts in the fall season with freshly harvested grapes. Two different varieties are used: Trebbiano and Lambrusco.  “Real” balsamic vinegar is made up of nothing more than those grapes with no additives or preservatives of any kind.  After the grapes are pressed, the juice is boiled for many hours to made a reduction that reduces the sugar by 40%. This grape juice reduction is then stored in a stainless steel tank for the remainder of the fall and winter. In the springtime, it is removed from the tank into wooden barrels. These barrels are carefully placed in a loft that has the fresh breezes of Modena constantly circulating through.  Only a linen cloth is place on the small opening so the barrels can breath and the juice can evaporate slowly and naturally.

At the right time the juice is transferred to  smaller barrels, then yet  smaller ones and so on. It should be noted that these small hand-made wooden barrels are made from different types of new wood. As in the production of fine wine the wood flavors the vinegar as it ages.  The most often used woods are chestnut, oak, juniper and cherry.   


This process of aging,  also like fine wine, may involve blending different vinegars together. Only after 12 years can this dark, luscious, thick syrup  be properly labeled, “Aceto Balsamico Traditionali De Modena,” or traditional, artisan balsamic vinegar. That is the minimum time. The really special stuff has to age for 25 years.  That explains why it’s very expensive and sold in tiny bottles from which it is carefully dispensed, drop by drop on such delicacies as a small shard of Parmigiano-Reggiano (the local cheese) as an appetizer or on rich vanilla ice cream as a special dessert.  It is also wonderful for flavoring different sauces of that region. On a special occasion, such as a wedding, guests may be offered a small spoonful, much in the way a liqueur might be served after dinner.


So that’s the story of how this most exotic and flavorful of all vinegars is made, but you don’t have to invest in the fancy artisan aceto balsamico to enjoy this special vinegar.  The balsamic vinegar that we are likely to use is industrially produced in much larger batches and is far less expensive.   It makes delicious, flavorful salad dressings and is used to flavor many foods we cook. Quality can vary widely and the best ones do come from the region of Modena. Vinegars that are aged 8 to 12 years have a good full-bodied flavor. 


The following recipes call for industrially produced balsamic.  For tastiest results, use the best balsamic you can afford, from Modena and well-aged.  If you do invest in a small bottle of the traditional type, use it sparingly and enjoy it.  It is truly one of the real culinary treats in the world.


Spaghetti with Fresh Italian Tomato Sauce with Balsamic

2 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup chopped onion

2 fresh sage leaves

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons butter

8 ounces spaghetti, cooked “al dente”

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


Core and finely chop the tomatoes.  (in this season you may substitute a 28-ounce can of whole Italian plum tomatoes that are finely chopped with their juice).

Heat the oil in a heavy pot.  Sauté the onions, stirring, for 5 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and sage leaves.

Cook, partially covered, for 20 minutes.

Remove the sage leaves and stir in the vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the butter until it is melted.

Toss with the spaghetti and serve topped with the grated cheese.

Serves 4 to 6.


Balsamic Sauce with Herbs and Garlic

1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon plain breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt, to taste


Put the parsley, garlic, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the butter in a small, heavy saucepan.  Simmer, without browning, stirring often, for 3 minutes.  Add the breadcrumbs, vinegar and sugar  and raise the heat to high just until crumbs

are lightly browned. 

Remove from the heat and salt to taste.  Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Serve room temperature.  Drizzle over grilled fish or chicken.

Makes about 1/2 cup.



Balsamic-Mustard Vinaigrette

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar


Whisk together the oil with the garlic, mustard, salt, pepper and honey.

Whisk in the vinegar, whisking until mixture is smooth.

Use as a salad dressing or marinade.





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