August 11, 2005 10:48 AM | By Adam Roberts | 15 Comments

Mascerate This! Strawberries and Balsamic Vinegar

Occassionally--very occassionally--I'll be contacted by someone in the food industry who wants to send me something so I'll write about it on the site. Like, for example, Emeril contacted me the other day and he was like "Yo, Adam, I have a new BAM sauce I want you to write about" and I was like, "Yo, Emeril, back off, k? I have integrity. I don't write about things just beacuse you want me to." He began to cry and I had to sing "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac to help him regain his composure.

Seriously, though, I have a policy. Here it is: you can send me stuff but that doesn't mean I'll definitely write about it. I'll try your product and if I like it I'll write about it. If I don't, I won't and we'll both move on with our lives.

And so it was that a very nice guy named Clark who works for a P.R. firm wanted to send me olive oil and balsmaic vinegar from Academia Barilla. I told him my policy, he said "that's fine," and then messangered it over. That means someone on a bike rode it over. That was exciting.

What was delivered was a beautiful press pack: a tote bag (like the kind you get from PBS), inside of which were two big bottles--one of olive oil, one of balsamic vinegar--but also a chef's hat, a Zagat's guide to Italian food in New York and a folder describing Academia Barilla's mission. Here it is: "Preserve authentic Italian food products and protect them from imitation." They do more, but that's the relative portion here.

I looked for a recipe to try the vinegar with and I found, in Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating, a recipe for strawberries coated in balsamic. It was easy to do. First you buy a box of strawberries. Here's where I think I failed, though. I bought my strwaberries from Whole Foods and when I got home the top one was moldy. If I had any gumption I would've run back and gotten my money back or exchanged it but it was so hot that I threw out the moldy one and examined all the others and they were ok. I washed them and trimmed them. Then I held up the bottle of balsmaic and took this picture:

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I decided to pour a little into the cap and taste it before using it. It came out syrupy which made me happy because that's how the vinegar was when I was in Italy. And it was very tart (I hacked a little) but also very sweet, like a good balsamic should be. I was impressed. I am not a shill: this is good vinegar.

The recipe I did, though, kind of sucked. Not because it's a bad recipe but my strawberries weren't really that fresh or ripe or yummy. You put half of them in the food processor with a little more than a tablespoon of balsamic:

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You use the resulting sauce to coat the other strawberries and then sprinkle it all with sugar. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (this is the masceration process). It looks like this when it comes out:

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It tasted pretty good, but not great. It needed vanilla ice cream as a base which I didn't have. I'm sure with great, fresh, ripe strawberries it would have been terrific. And I'm excited to use that vinegar in a salad or something else where balsamic vinegar is appropriate. "My life," I say to the camera beehind shiny white teeth, "has been forever changed by Barilla! Try some today, you won't regret it!"

I swear I'm not a shill...

15 Comments

Picking fresh produce can be a pain. For me, search costs are very high, and I can't seem to tolerate looking at more than a few items before choosing what I think is the best. My girlfriend, on the other hand, will gladly spend an hour looking for the best strawberries in the whole store. I guess it all works out in the end..

"Preserve authentic Italian food products and protect them from imitation"

A curious mission statement from a company that isn't offering authentic aceto balsamico, just the imitation stuff. That doesn't mean it's not good, of course, but it's a bit of a juxtaposition.

In Jamie Oliver's second cookbook (can't remember which name it has), there's a wonderful, and simpler, recipe for strawberries with balsamic. He serves them with sweetened mascarpone cheese. The end product is one of my favorite things about summer.

Did you eat that when you were done? The whole time I was reading this I was thinking, where do people come up with this stuff?

I had a bet going with a friend about the meaning of "macerate"- he said grind, I said "soak". Do I win?

You're right Liz, your boyfriend was probably thinking of the word "masticate" which means to grind or chew. Cheers.

eh, sorry to imply he was your "boyfriend" - meant to just say friend, in any case, you won the bet. that is all. Rock on AG!

Derrick, what do you consider "the authentic stuff?" This isn't balsamic dressing, it's vinegar. True, it's aged only 3 years, but that doesn't mean it's imitation.
On their website they have "traiditional" vinegars aged 15-25 years, and while I'm sure they're not the same as the old producers Ari Weinzweig sings the praises of in the Zingermans book, I'm confused why you'd say this isn't "real" balsamic.

Lindsay,

It comes down to what you mean by authentic, I suppose. The laws on balsamic vinegar from modena are pretty lax, so there's no telling what's in this particular bottle. But even if they do everything right, I consider the "tradizionale" forms to be authentic. The cheaper "Modena" kinds were an imitation of the tradizionale forms (which are also from Modena). The traditional, authentic stuff is aged a minimum of 12 years in increasingly smaller barrels of different woods. It's pricey but I've not had an imitation type that comes close to it.

But can you have good vinegar labeled as "Balsamico di Modena"? Sure. But it's different than the traditional type. Can it be "authentic?" I'd say no, but others might disagree if it's made in Modena, not colored/flavored with caramel or whatever, and aged reasonably well.

If you want to get really excited about Balsamic Vinegar, give the vinegar from these folks (http://www.venturischulze.com) up here on Vancouver Island (Canada) a whirl sometime. It is so sweet and delicious, that if you manage to forget how much you spent on it, you will be in heaven. As someone who consumed quite a bit of balsamic in my time living in Italy, I can say it certainly measures up.

Hey, I saw something about strawberries and macerating last week on another New York food weblog. Hang on...

Yep. It's at http://nycnosh.com

They made a strawberry vidalia salsa. You could try that too, Adam!

Last time I was in Napa (as a graduation gift) my mom and I went crazy at an amazing olive oil place (between Yountville and St. Helena I think...). We got great mustards, honeys, oils and my favorite strawberries in balsamic it was the most amazing thing ever and its great on cheese, hearty breads and dense dark chocolate cake!

I used to shop exclusively at the open air markets in NYC, and most often went organic. The produce was always amazingly fresh and tasty.

Now I live in the burbs and shop in supermarkets and produce markets and my life has changed for the worse when it comes to produce. Most of the produce is from far far away - Chile, California, the Pacific Northwest. I know I can't buy banannas from New York, but one expects their berries to be local in the summer at least! I imagine that produce that travels from afar simply isn't as fresh. Another thing that I've noticed in regard to the taste of my burb produce is that even local produce isn't always so hot. The NJ tomatoes that I've bought recently have been flavorless. Is this due to pesticides? Genetic modifcations? I'm not sure, but I do know that nothing is better than fresh, local, organic produce. This is why I love the restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barn in NY. There is nothing better than produce dug up that morning.

Hi Adam,

I've been out of town and just saw this post; my favorite ways to use basamlmico are on sauteed baby spinach(with chopped garlic) and with roasted root vegtables (beets, rutabagas, onions and carrots). Cube and coat them in your new olive oil, basalmico and chopped rosemary and roast in a 400 degree oven until tender. Wows them at Thanksgiving.

I'm catching up on all of your recent posts and had to leave a comment on this one. The idea of balsamic vinegar and strawberries was new to me at the beginning of the summer, but I had strawberries and ricotta cheese to use up and I found Mario Bataglia's recipe for Dessert Crostini:
http://www.food.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,1977,FOOD_9936_24858,00.html

I hope that link came through because I just used regular so-so strawberries and thought these crostini were absolutely delicious. The ricotta cheese blended perfectly with the berries, vinegar, basil and black pepper and the sliced french bread I used held up well as a base. Definitely worth a try!

These links are so irritating. I'm splitting it into two lines, that is how strongly I feel about this tasty dish:

http://www.food.com/food/recipes/
recipe/0,1977,FOOD_9936_24858,00.html

Throw it all on one line and you should be set. Hopefully.

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