By Judy Hevrdejs, Tribune Newspapers
September 5, 2012
Chefs, cooks, foodies: Put down the balsamic vinegar. Stop splashing it on everything. Stop the madness. It has become, we fear, the most overused ingredient in America's kitchens.
How did balsamic vinegar become so ubiquitous? Chef Massimo Bottura, a native of Modena, the Italian city that considers this vinegar one of its gastronomic gifts to the world, has a few ideas.
Bottura wrote a 2005 book about it ("Balsamic Vinegar"), produces it (Villa Manodori Artigianale Balsamic Vinegar) and uses it (judiciously) at Osteria Francescana, his Modena restaurant boasting three Michelin stars.
"I understand the desire to put it everywhere because it has such an inviting flavor," he wrote in an email about a trend he's watched grow over the past 10 years.
But consider the Modenese. They stick to a fine quality balsamic vinegar (aged 15 to 30 years), using it to dress bitter greens, to finish off a Parmigiano-Reggiano risotto or a pork fillet, to drizzle on Parmigiano cheese chunks or various fruits and greens as complementary side dishes to fish or meat.
Invest in a really delicious bottle of balsamic vinegar (price tag: $30-$50), Bottura advises, and use it for what it is: "A versatile and flavorful condiment. … I am always amazed at chefs who make these balsamic reductions that are sticky and brown with little to no flavor. The acidity is what makes the balsamic condiment so unique. Why cook that all away?"
As a rule, he avoids marinating foods in balsamic vinegar ("I just don't think it brings out the best in the vinegar or meat") and won't pour it on mozzarella or prosciutto. "(It) is too acidic for either and cancels out the flavors rather than enhances them."
On the other hand: "Peaches, raspberries and rucola (arugula) with just a touch of balsamic make a wonderful accompaniment to grilled fish."
His basic principle: "Less is more. Invest in a great product. As my grandmother always said, 'Buy the best and cry only once.'"
— Judy Hevrdejs, Tribune Newspapers
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