By Phillippa Spence
Balsamic offers depth and richness that no other vinegar can. It really is one for all sorts of food, from sauces and ragùs, to dressings and glazes, and even desserts.
True balsamic vinegar hails from the area of Modena in Italy and carries the DOCG (controlled designation of origin) certification, which means it can’t be made anywhere else. The base of the vinegar made from grape “must”, which is the juice and skin of the fruit. This is cooked down to a fruity syrup and then stored in barrels made from various types of wood, such as chestnut or mulberry, for at least 12 years.
Bring out the brilliant but cheaper, thinner balsamic to pep up sauces, stews, chutneys and casseroles that you feel need a bit of a sweet and sour boost. Roasted vegetables like beetroots, carrots or tomatoes drizzled towards the end of cooking go extra glazed and delicious. This recipe for slow-roasted tomatoes and baby leeks calls for the thinner balsamic – after an hour of roasting, the tomatoes take on a gorgeous, intense flavour.
Use the more expensive, syrupy balsamic in salad dressings. It also works perfectly with strawberries and other summer fruits. Add a splash to grilled fruit or eaten fresh to gain a lovely sharp, jammy flavour. Try this recipe for quick strawberry ice cream – a little drizzle of balsamic over the top of the meringue and ice cream draws out the sweet and sourness of the dessert, cutting through the cold as it goes.
As with olive oil, it is sometimes worth finding a better-quality balsamic vinegar, especially if you’re going to be using it for dressings. At Jamie’s we’re really big fans of the Belazu balsamic – it’s pretty pricey but a little goes a long way.