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The Italian Ingredient You Should Start Cooking With

Most of us think of balsamic vinegar as Italian food royalty and while it’s true that in the pantheon of Italian food products Aceto Balsamico from Modena stands above all others, we should not feel intimidated to use it on a daily basis. Like extra virgin olive oil, Italian balsamic has documented health benefits, an extraordinary depth of flavor and a clean delicate finish to season and enhance the flavor of a variety of foods.

True balsamic vinegar only has one ingredient, grape must (in Italian, “mosto”), the sweet juice of freshly pressed grapes that is boiled to a concentrate, fermented, acidified and aged. The grape juice is cooked slowly down until it is reduced by 35 – 50%. Then, the reduction is placed, along with a bit of an older balsamic vinegar to assist with acetification, into barrels to age. After a period of time some of the vinegar evaporates and the vinegar is transferred into a smaller barrel made of a different woods (often chestnut, cherry, juniper, mulberry, acacia or ash). Each wood infuses a different flavor into the vinegar, making it more complex and unique and as the vinegar ages and becomes concentrated, it becomes thick, sweet and dark.

Glazes, reductions, vinaigrettes, drizzles – the unique sweet/sour flavor and rich consistency of balsamic vinegar is what makes it so special. It adapts well to a variety of preparations from a chef inspired 6 Minute Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Balsamic Glaze (see recipe below) to adding caramelized onions and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar to your basic jarred basil and tomato pasta sauce. Make this a season of Balsamic and use this exceptional Italian ingredient to its greatest potential.

6 Minute Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Balsamic Glaze

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour cup unsweetened cocoa powder 1 tsp baking soda ½ tsp salt 1 cup granulated sugar ½ cup Capezzana Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1 cup brewed coffee 2 tsp vanilla extract 2 tbsp white vinegar

For the stawberries: 16 oz fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced 1 tbsp sugar 1 tbsp Giusti Crema Fig Balsamic Glaze

For the glaze: ⅔ cup Maletti Aged Balsamic Vinegar 3 tbsp sugar 1 ½ oz bittersweet chocolate bar, chopped

For the macarpone whipped cream: ¼ cup mascarpone ½ cup heavy cream 2 tbsp sugar ½ tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare one 8" round pan by oiling the pan and dusting with cocoa, tapping out any excess. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and sugar. In a 2-cup measuring cup, measure and mix together the oil, coffee (or water) and vanilla. Pour this into the flour mixture and mix batter with a rubber spatula.

When batter is smooth add white vinegar and stir quickly. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the strawberries, mix together strawberries, balsamic glaze and sugar in a bowl. Set aside.

For the cake glaze icing, in a large saucepan combine vinegar and sugar over medium-high heat. Reduce by half to a syrupy consistency. Remove from heat and stir in chopped chocolate until melted; cool slightly.

For the whipped cream, beat mascarpone for one minute. Add heavy cream, sugar and vanilla. Whip until thick.

Serve each piece with glaze, strawberries and whipped cream.

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