Proper Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, one that had been accredited with a ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ (much the same as Champagne or Cornish Pasties even) one that has taken years, literally years in the making, does not want to be dumped in a pan with a load of sugar and boiled to death. And just because your bottle of Whatsit’s® - Simply up Yours™ might look the part and say it’s from Modena doesn’t mean diddly: they have factories in Modena too you know!
Having said that, there are only two ingredients in this ‘recipe’, one of those being the balsamic vinegar: be economical, yes, but don’t be a cheapskate.
The advantage of making your own is that being nothing more than vinegar and sugar it has an admirable shelf-life and you can make a whole load of it and have it on hand, year in, year out. You also have the benefit of being able to control the ingredients and their ratios, balancing the flavour and its consistency to your liking.
I use this to embellish a newcomer on the menu, a roast tomato tart, which with its sweet roast garlic filling benefits from a complimentary note of tang.
A few suggestions then (until such point I post the recipe for tomato tart):
- 1. Buy a proper artisanal loaf of ciabatta, griddle slices of it brushed with olive oil, in the style of bruschetta. Roast some tomatoes on the vine, drizzled with olive oil, flecked with crushed garlic, sea salt and black pepper. Sit the hot tomatoes on top of the bruschetta with any juices in the bottom of the pan, drizzle over the balsamic syrup, let their juices soak into the bread, then let the juices run down your chin.
2. Drizzle over strawberries, serve with vanilla ice cream.
3. Cube the left-over bread from your artisanal ciabatta, toss in olive oil and bake in the oven to make simple croutons. Toss some rocket with a few handsome shavings of Parmesan, add the croutons, drizzle with the syrup, drizzle with olive oil, serve with Parma ham for a simple yet confident, care-free starter.
4. Roll out puff pastry, cut out playing card size rectangles. Lightly score a border 1cm in from the outside edge, prick the inside rectangle with a fork going right through to the base. Crumble blue cheese onto the centre keeping inside the border. Cut a fresh fig in half vertically, dip the face of each half into caster sugar and stand up right on the blue cheese, drizzle with balsamic syrup. Bake in in the oven for 10 mins.
5. Pan fry lamb chops in olive oil. Oven roast cubes of seasoned aubergine tossed in olive oil and garlic in a hot oven. Remove the lamb to a plate and keep it warm, add two or three tablespoons of balsamic glaze to the pan with a tablespoon of water, toss in the roasted aubergine, tear over fresh basil, serve with the lamb.
450 ml balsamic vinegar
135g caster sugar
Good fat pinch of Maldon sea salt
Place all three ingredients in a suitably sized saucepan on a low heat, stir to dissolve the sugar.
Increase the heat and bring to a simmer – start the timer.
We’re aiming for a reduction of about half and one that leaves a clear trail across the bottom of the pan when you drag the spoon across it. This takes somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes.
Watch the size of the bubbles (but beware inhaling the fumes), as the vinegar reduces the bubbles get bigger and the syrup will froth up in volume, just as they would in making a caramel.
(Alternatively, you could weigh the final thing, either by pouring it into a bowl on the scales, or by weighing the pan and its contents together, but first having taken a note of the total weight before you started. 250g – 275g will give you a thick syrup the constituency of black treacle. Easier still, use the handle end of a wooden spoon as a dipstick, the balsamic will leave a handy tidemark, by which to measure.
The syrup will thicken as it cools; if the end result should be too thick, just pop the pan back on a low heat with a tablespoon of water and stir to loosen.