This time of year, sumptuous strawberries seem to call my name when I’m in the produce aisle, inviting me to enjoy their deliciousness. And enjoy I do. How about you?
Their magic begins with the delicate and dainty white flowers with yellow centers. Then there’s the flavor combination of sweet and not so sweet, the gorgeous red color and how strawberries perk up just about any dish.
My repertoire includes jam, macerated, cut up in chicken salad, a chilled soup and paired with shortcake and a dollop of whipped cream. Delicious, yes. Imaginative, not so much.
All that changed when Williams-Sonoma founder Chuck Williams introduced America to Fini balsamic vinegar he imported from Modena, Italy. Drizzle it over strawberries; you’ll be amazed, he said.
Yes, he sure was right. It’s amazing. I’m OK that I don’t have to have the most creative and yummy recipes in the world using strawberries. Having the balsamic drizzle is good enough for me.
In case you’re curious, at the top of the list is the original balsamic vinegar known as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (or Reggio Emilia), made using a long and complicated traditional method. It carries a DOP (protected appellation of origin) qualification, meaning following strict regulations and adhering to the established traditional procedure. It’s made from only two local grape varieties—lambrusco and trebbiano—and must age a minimum of 12 years in a series of different types of wooden barrels—cherry, chestnut, oak, juniper, ash and mulberry—to obtain its unique flavor. If the label says stravecchio (extra old), it aged 25 years or more. Some even age for 50 years or longer.
Next is Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP (protected geographical indication). These vinegars must be made in Modena and consist of a minimum of 10% concentrated grape juice, minimum 10% wine vinegar and 2% caramel. An unspecified amount of older (10 years or more) vinegar may be added and must come from seven approved grape varieties.
The commercial version, labeled simply balsamic vinegar or Aceto Balsamico, is a mass-market product of wine vinegar with coloring, thickening agents and flavoring added to simulate the flavor and consistency of a traditional balsamic vinegar. It’s the least expensive and the most familiar to people outside of Italy. It doesn’t even have to be made in Italy.
This week’s recipe comes from Chuck. Enjoy and let me know how you like it!
Wishing you joy in the kitchen,
Roasted Strawberry & Ricotta Bruschetta
Baguette or other crispy bread, toasted
Ricotta cheese, made from milk or cashews
Freshly ground pepper
1. Toss halved strawberries with balsamic vinegar and sugar. Roast on a rimmed baking sheet at 300°F for 20 minutes.
2. Spread toasted bread with ricotta cheese; top with strawberries. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with pepper.