Balsamic vinegar adds sweet, tangy flavors

Traditional balsamic vinegars are made from a pure and unfermented reduced grape must and aged for several years in a series of wooden barrels. Balsamic’s flavor is deeply sweet and tangy with a thick viscosity and boasts variations of rich brown to dark, inky purple colors. Produced exclusively in either the province of Modena or the wider Emilia region of Italy, it is magical and mysterious must-have vinegar staple in my pantry.

I love it and could not resist purchasing an expensive, beautiful little bottle of it to bring back from Italy with me recently. The shop owners I purchased it from proudly told me about how they grew the grapes and made the balsamic when I visited their shop in Tuscany.

I use it to accent different ingredients with its’ rich flavor; fresh strawberries simply drizzled with a good Modena balsamic, salad greens dressed with a balsamic and olive oil vinaigrette, mushrooms sautéed with a few tablespoons of balsamic, thick ribbons of it drizzled over vibrant green, pan roasted asparagus or stirred into bright orange carrots with a knob of butter and sprinkle of chopped parsley. One of my favorite ways is to glaze pan roasted brussels sprouts with it. It’s deep and dark color provides a gorgeous contrast to other colors and it’s a unique taste accent makes it more than just the perfect finishing touch.

Here on Kachemak Bay, we have a love affair with oysters farmed locally. They have a clean, sweet and ever so slight brine of the sea taste. I love the different shades of grey, brown, purple and pink that dress the ruffled shells that only nature could paint on them. Enjoyed raw on the half shell or cooked in some way, I can never have enough oyster recipes in my collection. This recipe is easy, fast and impressive.

Oysters with Balsamic and Bacon

2-3 cups rock salt

1 dozen fresh oysters, in the half shell

3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

½ pound of smoked bacon, finely chopped

Lemon wedges, to serve

Directions

Preheat oven broiler to medium-high.

Scatter the rock salt over the base of a large heatproof serving pan.

Arrange the oysters on the rock salt.

Place the vinegar in a small jug and pour a small amount over the oysters. Divide the bacon among the oysters. Cook under the broiler for 5-8 minutes or until the bacon is golden. Set aside for 2 minutes to cool slightly. Serve with the lemon wedges.

My family loves a popular sweet and creamy dressed fresh broccoli salad that is made with apple cider vinegar, raisins, sunflower seeds and bacon. This version is a different twist on the usual recipe. It’s made with balsamic vinegar, fresh grapes, and pecans but doesn’t include bacon. In my life though, everything is better with bacon, and if you agree, I think the addition of it is a fabulous idea.

Balsamic Broccoli Salad with Grapes and Pecans

4-6 servings

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 pound fresh broccoli sliced into small 1/2” florets (about 4 cups worth)

2 cups green or red grapes halved

2 tablespoons finely diced red onions

1/2 cup chopped roasted pecans

4 strips bacon, finely diced and fried crisp

Directions

Stir together the mayonnaise, balsamic vinegar, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Add the broccoli, grapes, and onions. Stir well to coat with the dressing. Stir in the pecans, reserving a few for sprinkling on top. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Sprinkle bacon overall and stir again just before serving.

Grilled Chicken Salad with Balsamic Dressed Greens and Goat Cheese

The balsamic marinade is brilliant, as it makes for very succulent chicken. Allow 4 to 6 hours for chicken to marinate. This salad is beautiful and If you can’t find fresh figs, try it with slices or mango or peaches.

4 servings

Ingredients

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons tapenade

1 large garlic clove, minced

4 boneless chicken breast halves with skin on

4 teaspoons minced fresh thyme

1 4.5- to 5-ounce bag mixed baby greens

1 small fresh fennel bulb, cored, thinly sliced

1/2 large head radicchio, thinly sliced

¼ cup thinly sliced red onion

12 fresh figs, quartered (optional)

Toasted pine nuts

1 cup crumbled goat cheese to sprinkle over salads

Preparation

Whisk 1/2 cup oil, balsamic vinegar, tapenade and garlic in small bowl to blend; season with salt and pepper. Place chicken in 8-inch by 8-inch by 2-inch dish; sprinkle with thyme. Pour 1/2 cup dressing over chicken; turn to coat. Whisk 2 tablespoons oil into remaining dressing in small bowl. Cover chicken and dressing separately; chill at least 4 and up to 6 hours, turning chicken occasionally.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Bring dressing to room temperature. Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Grill until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to plate.

Combine greens, fennel, radicchio and onion in large bowl; toss with remaining dressing. Mound on 4 plates. Slice chicken breasts lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange atop salads. Garnish with figs, if desired, goat cheese and pine nuts.

Enjoy the unique flavor of balsamic vinegar, as it compliments so many things.

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