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Showing posts with label reduced balsamic vinegar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reduced balsamic vinegar. Show all posts

Friday, June 10, 2016

Blasting Heat Sears in Flavor

A few years ago I convinced a chef to teach me how he made crispy skin on a filet of fish. Chef Taylor Boudreaux said it was easy. I couldn't believe that. For years I had tried to cook a filet of fish with the skin on and the result wasn't good. Either the skin was chewy or burnt to a crisp.
When I ate Boudreaux's salmon filet with mushrooms, the charred skin was crisp as a slice of perfectly cooked bacon. A perfect contrast to the moist, sweet flesh.

He reveals the secret in the video. A carbon steel pan. That's it. The pan takes an incredible amount of heat. Up to 700F. The skin sizzles and in seconds is perfectly seared. A quick flip to char the flesh and then into a 350F oven to cook the filet on the inside.
After I bought a pan and seasoned it and used it successfully on a fish filet, I discovered the pan's other advantage. Easy clean up. Very much like a cut-down wok, the pan needs only a quick cleaning with a soapy sponge to remove the left-over oil, heated again on the stove top to burn off the water and that's it. No strenuously scrubbing to clean the pan the way I had done for years with the stainless steel pans I relied upon. Just a quick clean up and I was done.

A cast iron pan also works well at high heat, but from my experience the carbon steel pan does a better job. Both pans are relatively inexpensive. A carbon steel pan will cost half the price of a comparably sized, quality stainless steel pan. When you shop for a carbon steel pan, buy one that is made with a thicker gauge steel. I have been using de Buyer pans. Chef Boudreaux recommends Matfer Bourgeat. The advantage of the thicker gauge pans is they retain heat longer than the pans made with a thinner steel.

Cast iron pans are easy to find. Carbon steel pans, not so much. In the Los Angeles area, the only source for the pans is Surfas Culinary District. In New York, I have seen them upstairs at Zabar's.
Using the pan exclusively, I discovered the beautiful work it does on steaks. Treated very much in the same way as the fish filets, each side of the dry seasoned steak is charred and then placed into a 350F oven to cook the interior of the steak. While the steak is resting for five minutes under aluminum foil, quickly sear your favorite vegetables in the pan to pick up the pan dripping flavor and serve as a side dish.
After that, I moved on to tofu, shrimp, octopus and chicken breasts. And then onto vegetables. Broccoli, shiitake mushrooms, Japanese eggplant, carrots, asparagus, green beans, English peas and corn kernels. Every firm fleshed vegetable I tried worked perfectly when I applied high heat using the carbon steel pan.

For Zester Daily I wrote about creating a charred garbanzo bean salad using charred vegetables and freshly chopped Italian parsley.
The mix of seared vegetables, lightly caramelized by the high heat, and the freshness of the parsley is really delicious. Please take a look and let me know what you think. Thanks!

Blast the Heat for For A Charred Vegan Salad

Chef Tips For Crispy Skin Pan Seared Salmon Filets

Monday, September 15, 2014

Summer’s Last Salad - Charred Corn and Chopped Vegetable Salad

How can summer be over? Honestly, it seems only a few weeks ago that we were in the park watching 4th of July fireworks. Now every day the sun leaves the sky earlier and earlier. 

Walking through our farmers market, the tell-tale signs that fall is closing in are everywhere. The mounds of corn at our farmers market are smaller. The tomatoes aren’t as acidic-sweet as they were last month. The peaches still look beautiful but they aren't as full of flavor with firm flesh.
In these last moments before temperatures plunge and skies cloud over, now is the time to seize the day and celebrate summer before it disappears completely.
Dylan Thomas said that we should “rage against the dying of the light” (Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night). Personally I prefer a good chopped salad to ragging against the inevitable.

Charred Corn and Chopped Vegetable Salad

Always examine the ears of corn closely before purchasing. That is always true but at the end of summer, choosing ears carefully is even more important. Ideally the husks should be green and pliant, the tassels moist and the kernels plump. Dimpled kernels are a sign the corn is losing its sweetness. A worm or two isn't a problem. The presence of a live worm says the corn is organically grown. Just cut that part of the cob off and discard.

Use whatever fresh vegetables you enjoy.

My preference is to cut the vegetables into a small dice so they are similar in size to the corn kernels.

Charring the corn adds a smoky-sweetness.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 basket or 2 cups cherry tomatoes, washed, dried, cut into eighths
2 ears fresh corn or 4 cups of kernels, husks and tassels removed, washed, dried
1 large bunch Italian parsley, washed, dried, leaves only, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, washed, peeled, stem cut off and discarded, cut into a fine dice
1 medium avocado, washed, skin and pit removed, small dice
1/3 cup green and black olives, pitted, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
1 red or yellow pepper, washed, dried (optional)
1 cup croutons, homemade preferable
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon reduced balsamic vinegar (made from 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar reduced on a low flame)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Place the ears on a plate and drizzle with olive oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Char the ears of corn either on the barbecue or in the oven. On the barbecue turn the ears frequently over medium-high eat to char but not blacken. Remove and let cool. If in the oven, preheat to 350F, place the ears on an aluminum foil or Silpat lined baking sheet and roast fifteen or twenty minutes, turning every five minutes for even cooking.

When cooled, remove the kernels from the cobs with a sharp chefs or paring knife. Place in a large mixing or salad bowl.

Reduce the balsamic vinegar over a low flame. Allow to cool.

If using a pepper, char a whole red pepper on the barbecue or over an open flame on the stove. When the skin has turned black, remove and allow to cool. Under a stream of cold water, rub off the blackened skin. Place over a bowl. Using a paring knife, remove the stem. Cut open to release and capture the oils inside the pepper. Discard the seeds. 

Finely dice the cooked pepper. Add 1/4 cup to the salad. In a sealed jar, reserve the remainder to be used in stews, soups or another salad. The cooked pepper will keep fresh in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Add the reserved pepper oil to the salad.

Add the cut up pepper (optional), cherry tomatoes, avocado, parsley, olives, carrots and croutons to the bowl with the corn kernels. Toss well. If desired, add crumbled feta cheese.

Season the salad with olive oil, reduced balsamic, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss well and serve.

Variations

Use grated cheddar or crumbled blue cheese instead of feta.

Add a chopped protein like cooked chicken breast or grilled shrimp.

Add 1 tablespoon chopped red onions or scallions.

Add 1/4 cup fresh chopped bell peppers, preferably red and yellow.

Add 10 asparagus spears, woody bottom part removed, washed, charred on the barbecue or roasted in the oven, chopped.




Tuesday, May 6, 2014

An Easy-to-Make Meal Perfect for Mother's Day

Since Mother's Day is a day when mom is celebrated and pampered, it would be counter-intuitive to expect her to cook. On the other hand, putting too much burden on the other members of the family (dad and the kids) would also be ill-advised.

There is the classic New Yorker's solution of serving lox, bagels, and cream cheese or avoiding cooking entirely by visiting a restaurant, but a home cooked meal makes such a personal statement. The key is to prepare a simple meal so you don't spend more time in the kitchen than with her. That and flowers tells her, "I love you."

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.

Chicken Breasts Sautéed with Spinach

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, washed, dried
1 bunch spinach, washed thoroughly to remove all the grit, dried, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/4 cup water, chicken stock, or white wine
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Use one frying pan to cut down on clean up. Sauté the garlic and shallot until softened--about 2 minutes--add the chicken breasts and sauté until lightly browned on both sides, then remove and cover with aluminum foil. Sauté the spinach until wilted, then remove. Deglaze the pan with the liquid. Add the butter. Season with sea salt and pepper. Reduce the liquid by half, then add back the chicken breasts and coat with the sauce. Remove the breasts and cover to keep warm. Put the spinach back in the pan and mix well with the sauce. Slide the spinach onto the serving plate. Slice the chicken and arrange on top of the spinach.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 15 minutes.

For the dessert I'd suggest my mom's favorite: Banana Cake With Chocolate Chips and Almonds. The recipe is on the New York Times Dining. The cake can be made the day ahead. Before serving, bring to room temperature and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Easy Summer Meal of Heirloom Tomatoes and Sautéed Chicken Breasts

A good friend had a problem: his wife's birthday was a week away and he had to organize a dinner for 25. Clay likes hosting Lesli's birthday party but doesn't enjoy the pressure of putting together the meal. In the past he had side-stepped the stress by ordering out.

For many years, the dinner party was catered by Versailles a popular Cuban restaurant. This year he decided a pot luck dinner would make the meal more personal. Truth is Clay's talents lie in painting and photography and while he enjoys eating, he's happy to leave the cooking to others. But he had committed to preparing the main course and a side dish and even that felt burdensome. We discussed all this at our weekly Sunday brunch. I figured it was the manly thing to do to help him plan, shop, and prepare the dinner.

The central question was obvious: what to make for the main course that would feed 25 and wouldn't require a huge amount of time in the kitchen? In the winter, the obvious answer would be a roast or a comfort dish like chicken and dumplings. Since Lesli's birthday falls in the middle of summer when the air is warm and eating outdoors is the order of the day, something lighter was required.

Given that Lesli and my wife, Michelle, prefer simply prepared meals, we settled on easy-to-make grilled chicken breasts and Italian sweet sausages. For a side dish we talked about sautéed spinach, green beans with garlic and mushrooms, or grilled artichokes, any of which would go well with the grilled meats. In deference to eating locally, we made a plan to shop at the farmers' market the day of the party and decide what to make while we were at the market.

Saturday morning we met early at the Santa Monica farmers' market. Walking past the farmers' stalls we saw vegetables we hadn't thought about: summer squash and Japanese eggplants for grilling, plump carrots for a Moroccan flavored salad, and baby bok choy that we could stir fry with ginger, garlic and soy sauce.

Finally we settled on the obvious summer choice: a salad of heirloom tomatoes in a simple vinaigrette. Right now the profusion of tomatoes in the market is nothing short of phenomenal: Brandywines (red, yellow, black), Cherokee Purples, Green Zebras, even a sweet cherry tomato called Snow White.

We also saw fresh Italian parsley, shallots, ginger, and garlic. Those flavors could bring a helpful lift to the chicken breasts. We decided on a simple butter sauce and a crispy topping of bacon, shallots, garlic, ginger, and Italian parsley leaves.

The nice part about pot luck meals is you discover things you didn't know about your friends. Talking with Melissa about what she was going to bring, I learned that she and her husband had just gotten back from a trip to Napa. She happily applied her recent experience and brought a terrific platter of cheeses (each one with its own flag-label) accompanied by a fig spread, grapes, strawberries, and nuts.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes (washed, stems removed)
1/2 basket ripe heirloom cherry tomatoes (washed, stems removed, halved)
1 ripe avocado (washed, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped)
1/2 cup olives (cracked green or black, pitted, roughly chopped)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Method

On a very low flame heat the vinegar in a small saucepan until reduced to 1 tablespoon.

Cut the large tomatoes into quarters or chunks or slices--whatever you prefer--gently toss them with the cherry tomatoes, avocado, olives, olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.

Variations

Add cilantro or Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped.

Add red onion or scallions, peeled, finely chopped.

Chicken Breasts with Butter Sauce and a Crispy Topping

Yield: 4 servings
Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (washed, pat dried)
4 slices bacon (finely chopped)
4 shallots (peeled, finely julienned)
2" piece of fresh ginger (peeled, finely julienned)
4 garlic cloves (peeled, finely julienned)
1/2 cup Italian parsley (washed, dried, leaves only)
1/4 cup sweet butter
1/2 cup chicken stock
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
6 cups safflower oil

Method

Make the crispy part first. Heat the oil in a deep pan like a wok so that when the ingredients are added and the oil foams up, the pan is deep enough that the oil won't flow onto the stove. You can tell this was a lesson I learned the hard way. Test the oil by dropping in a parsley leaf. If it crisps in 5-6 seconds, the oil's hot enough. Cook the bacon, ginger, garlic, parsley, and shallots separately. Have a slotted spoon or a fine-mesh strainer ready because they will cook in a few seconds. Remove each and let drain on a paper towel.

Drizzle olive oil onto a plate, then season with sea salt and pepper. Dredge each chicken breast half through the seasoned oil. Either grill the breasts on a barbecue or sauté in a medium-hot pan until browned on each side. Put the breasts on a plate and cover lightly with a piece of aluminum foil. Heat butter and chicken stock in a sauté pan and reduce until thickened.

Arrange the breasts on a platter, drizzle with the butter sauce, and top with the crispy bits.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Farmers' Market Fast Food

We have a Sunday routine. Our friends Annette and Ron come over. We watch 60 Minutes, catch up, and have dinner. Last Sunday I didn't think they could make it because they'd been in Japan all that week. I assumed that if they were back in town they were probably jet lagged and wouldn't want to leave the house. But I didn't want to break the weekly tradition, so I emailed them anyway that if they were up for it, Sunday dinner was still happening. Then I went about my business and forgot completely about the invitation.

30 minutes before they would normally come over, Ron called to say that they would be arriving as usual. Knowing that they're usually a half hour late, I had an hour to make dinner.

That's where the farmers' market comes into play. For my mother's generation quickly pulling together a meal meant using prepared foods, canned or frozen. Because we shop at our local farmers' market, we always have a good selection of fresh vegetables and fruit in the refrigerator.

That morning I had picked up flowers for the dining room table and fresh corn, carrots, Haas avocados, scallions, cantaloupe, and romaine lettuce.

From what I had bought at the farmers' market, I made a salad, corn on the cob, and cut up a cantaloupe. I added a feta cheese-tapenade appetizer plate with olives and a fresh bread from Bay Cities in Santa Monica and I pulled out a banana chocolate-chip cake I'd made a few days ago. I could have stopped at that point. We had a full meal, vegetarian except for the salami in the salad, but our friends needed protein after their long trip so to fill out the meal, I grilled a rib-eye steak and a half dozen lamb chops.

The heart and soul of the meal was the farmers' market produce. Making the whole meal only took 45 minutes. Everything was ready when Ron and Annette arrived, jet lagged and very hungry.

Romaine Lettuce with Julienned Salami, Cheese, & Carrots

Yield 4 servings
Time 10 minutes

The felino salami and comte cheese came from Bay Cities. I recommend both.

Ingredients

2 hearts of romaine (washed, dried, cut into bite sized pieces)
2 tablespoons felino salami (julienned)
2 tablespoons comte cheese (julienned) cheddar or swiss would be good as well
2 tablespoons croutons (homemade preferred)
2 tablespoons carrot (washed, julienned)
1 scallion (washed, thin sliced, green and white parts)
1/2 small avocado (peeled, roughly chopped)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Heat the balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over a low flame until reduced to 1 tablespoon. Let cool.

Put the ingredients in a salad bowl, dress with the olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar, and season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wilted Spinach Salad Takes Center Stage

Everyone has an all-purpose dish that can be modified in clever ways by changing a few key ingredients. For my mother, it was the casserole. For me it’s usually pasta but on those nights when my wife wants to “go green” I turn to an old stand-by: a wilted spinach salad.

Versatile spinach works cold in a salad or heated by sautéing or boiling. A hot dressing brings spinach to a middle ground: mostly raw with some leaves wilted from the heat of the dressing. Sautéing the dressing allows for a great variety of ingredients: Italian sausage, anchovies, mushrooms, shrimp, bacon, chicken, duck, chicken livers, or purely vegetarian. As far as I can tell just about any pizza topping would work on a wilted spinach salad, excepting maybe pineapple.

I invite everyone to send in suggestions. I know I’ve only scratched the surface of this infinitely variable dish.

Wilted Spinach Salad with Shrimp, Avocado, and Olives
Yield 4 servings
Time 20 minutes

Ingredients

1 large bunch spinach, the root ends trimmed and discarded, thoroughly washed to remove the grit
2 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced
2 slices bacon, finely chopped (optional)
6 mushrooms (brown or shiitake), washed, thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled, cut into rounds 1/4" thick
2 shallots, peeled, cut into thin rounds
12 shrimp, medium sized, washed, deveined, sliced in half (optional)
12 olives (oil cured black, green split, or Castelvetrano green), pitted, quartered
1 small avocado, peeled, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons, preferably homemade
2 tablespoons feta, crumbled (optional)
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Remove the stems from the spinach. Put the leaves into a large salad bowl. Finely chop the stems. To make the hot dressing put 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a sauté pan on a medium flame and lightly brown the spinach stems, garlic, bacon, mushrooms, carrot rounds, and shallots. Remove from heat and set aside. In a small sauce pan reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. In a separate sauté pan drizzled with olive oil, cook the shrimps until pink about 2 minutes, then set aside.

When you’re just about to serve the salad, reheat the dressing on a medium flame. Add the rest of the olive oil, olives, and avocado.

Using a rubber spatula pour the hot dressing over the spinach leaves. Drizzle with the reduced balsamic vinegar. Top with the shrimp, croutons and if you want the feta. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper.

Variations

The hot dressing can be kept vegetarian by using olive oil, shallots, and garlic. Most vegetables can be added to the sauté: zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, English peas, sugar snap peas, broccoli, or tomatoes. Try tofu or vegetarian patties as well.

A riff on a chef salad, in the dressing sauté baked ham and turkey breast with shallots; add cheese (cheddar or Swiss) and chopped tomatoes when you toss the salad.

Borrowing from the classic frisee salad, use bacon or lardoons crisped in the sauté, topping the salad with a fried egg. A variation on a variation: instead of a fried egg, use a hard boiled egg, sliced or chopped.

Sauté 1/4" rounds of Italian sausage with slices of red pepper, onion, and garlic to make a wilted salad version of a sausage hero.

Grilled or sautéed chicken livers with mushrooms, onions, and lots of garlic.

Add several anchovies and a dusting of pepper flakes to the onion-garlic sauté.

For the meat use slices of roast duck or chicken (dark meat preferably since it has more flavor); put shiitake mushrooms in the sauté.

Friday, May 9, 2008

An Easy-to-Make Meal Perfect for Mother's Day

Since Mother's Day is a day when mom is celebrated and pampered, it would be counter-intuitive to expect her to cook. On the other hand, putting too much burden on the other members of the family (dad and the kids) would also be ill-advised.

There is the classic New Yorker's solution of serving lox, bagels, and cream cheese or avoiding cooking entirely by visiting a restaurant, but a home cooked meal makes such a personal statement. The key is to prepare a simple meal so you don't spend more time in the kitchen than with her. That and flowers tells her, "I love you."

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 20 minutes.

Chicken Breasts Sautéed with Spinach

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, washed, dried
1 bunch spinach, washed thoroughly to remove all the grit, dried, stems removed, leaves roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/4 cup water, chicken stock, or white wine
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Use one frying pan to cut down on clean up. Sauté the garlic and shallot until softened--about 2 minutes--add the chicken breasts and sauté until lightly browned on both sides, then remove and cover with aluminum foil. Sauté the spinach until wilted, then remove. Deglaze the pan with the liquid. Add the butter. Season with sea salt and pepper. Reduce the liquid by half, then add back the chicken breasts and coat with the sauce. Remove the breasts and cover to keep warm. Put the spinach back in the pan and mix well with the sauce. Slide the spinach onto the serving plate. Slice the chicken and arrange on top of the spinach.

Serves 4. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 15 minutes.

For the dessert I'd suggest my mom's favorite: Banana Cake With Chocolate Chips and Almonds. The recipe is on Bitten. The cake can be made the day ahead. Before serving, bring to room temperature and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

With a Little Help from a Friend I Discovered Guidi Marcello's deli

Cooking is one of life's great pleasures. But routine can be its enemy. Always using the same recipes, the same ingredients, or shopping at the same markets will wear down even the most foodie of cooks. I'm very grateful when someone puts me onto a new direction that reinvigorates my cooking. My good friend, Alexandra, an expert in all things Italian, did just that when she told me about the wholesale/retail importer Guidi Marcello (1649 10th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404, 310/452-6277). The outside of the building is so nondescript I didn't find it at first. Inside is one of the best selections of affordable Italian imports in Los Angeles: cheeses (cow, sheep, goat), olives, cured meats, frozen desserts, pastas, olive oils, ceramics, breads, spices, chocolates...

There are so many great ingredients to try it's difficult to know where to begin. I started with the olives because I seem to be stuck in a routine of buying oil cured black and cracked green olives at Iranian markets. Guidi Marcello has rows of olives I hadn't seen before. One in particular looked intriguing: Castelvetrano green olives. Grown in Sicily, the olives are packed green and brine cured. The buttery flavor is quite surprising and delicious. Using them in a simple salad shows off their qualities.

Mozzarella Salad with Green Olives, Avocado, and Reduced Balsamic Dressing

For the dressing I like a simple mix of extra virgin olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. I've talked about making balsamic vinegar reduction in quantity but for one salad just reduce 4 tablespoons of vinegar to 1 on a low flame in a sauce pan. The vinegar turns sweet. Let it cool and drizzle it over the salad with the olive oil. You can buy the fresh mozzarella at Guidi's or around the corner at Bay Cities Deli where they also carry the extraordinary Felino salami.

2 large fresh Mozzarella pieces, dried, cut into 1" squares
1 small ripe avocado, peeled, cut up
15 green olives (Castelvetrano or any other good quality olive), pitted, quartered
6 slices salami (Felino or any other good quality salami), casing removed, julienned
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon reduced balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Combine all the salad ingredients in a large bowl, drizzle with the olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar, and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss. Serve with a fresh baguette and sweet butter.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 10 minutes.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Reduced Balsamic Vinegar

Because I like to use vinegars with less of an edge, I used to buy saba and aged balsamic vinegar. Problem is, they're expensive. $25.00 - $75.00/pint.

There's no substitute for saba or aged balsamic vinegar, but I discovered a way to use ordinary balsamic vinegar and increase its flavor.

Buy the cheapest balsamic you can find. At a restaurant supply store like Smart and Final, you can buy a gallon of balsamic vinegar for under $20.00.

Pour the vinegar into a large pot and put on the lowest flame possible. To avoid a "cooked" flavor, all you want to do is accelerate evaporation.

A gallon of vinegar will take 10-15 hours to reduce the balsamic to 20% of the original volume. Taste the vinegar. You're done when it has a slightly sweet flavor.

Wet a piece of cheese cloth and put it inside a funnel. To get rid of any solids that might have built up, pour the reduced balsamic through the cheese cloth. Pour the "syrup" into squeeze bottles, the kind you get from a restaurant supply store for catsup.

Use the syrup on salads, drizzled with olive oil, or to finish homemade pizza, or on vanilla ice cream and strawberries.

For an individual serving, take 1/4 cup of vinegar and reduce over a slow flame. That will take 10-15 minutes and make about a tablespoon. Let cool and add to a salad that serves 4.