Balsamic vinegar is specialty vinegar from the region of Modena, north of Bologna. Made for centuries, it is made from the must of white grapes. The must is boiled down to a concentrated, white juice and then aged for decades in a series of barrels, each barrel a different size and different type of wood. This makes the color of the vinegar deep brown.
Balsamic vinegar is known for having an intense flavor, a balanced texture, and a combination of sweet and sour. Many balsamic vinegars are imitations ? check your label. To be true balsamic vinegar, the label should read, ?aceto balsamico tradizionale di modena.? A staple in salad dressings, balsamic vinegar can be used to add to vegetables, meat glazes and a variety of other dishes. For a real treat, drizzle over fresh strawberries.
Adding some Spice
As in most regional cooking, spices are key in adding flavor to many dishes in Tuscany. Spices and dried herbs are wonderful additions to cooking as they add flavor without adding fat.
Well used and adored in Italy is salt. Instead of table salt, the Italians prefer to use sea salt – more specifically, Italian sea salt. This salt, also called Sale Marino, is produced from the Mediterranean waters off the coast of Sicily. Naturally rich in iodine, fluorine and potassium, this salt is actually lower in sodium than regular table salt. The salt is high in flavor and yet delicate in texture. It is a perfect accompaniment to salads, roasted meats and any tomato sauce. Italian sea salt may not be available, in which case, try another style of sea salt, particularly those from the Mediterranean.
Herbs & Spices
Fresh herbs are the favorite way for Italians to add flavor to dishes. The most popular are basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley and oregano. While fresh is always better, many of these herbs are available dried, the best in the dried sector are oregano, thyme and sage.
Oregano can be added to many pasta sauces and pizza. Thyme and sage are wonderful supplements for roast chicken and meats. Bay leaves can also be useful in adding flavor. Usually found in soups, casseroles and roasts, the leaves add flavor but are then removed before serving. Bay leaves are sold in the spice section so stock up for future use.