Ingredient of the Week: Balsamic Vinegar

To continue my Italian kick, this week, I present balsamic vinegar, which you can combine with past featured ingredients such as the roma tomato and Genovese basil to make a refreshing pasta salad for those summer picnics and barbecues.

What is it?

From Italy, balsamic vinegar was originally made by cooking white Trebbiano grapes down to a reduction, therefore not technically making it a vinegar. The true and traditional balsamic vinegars come from the Italian cities of Modena and Reggio Emilia. Their names--Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia--are protected by the European Union, preserving their designation of origin. Balsamic vinegar has a rich and tart flavor with a slight hint of sweetness.

How do I use it?

Many of the balsamic vinegars we see in the grocery store are commercial grade vinegars, and they're great used in salad dressings, sauces, marinades, reductions and dips. You can add it to such fresh fruits as berries and peaches to bring out their flavors.

Heat sweetens balsamic vinegar and lowers its acidity; if you want to take it down a notch, cook it. If you want to preserve its strong flavor, add it at the end, right before serving.

Where can I find it?

At any grocery store in the oil and vinegar aisle.

Recipe: Antipasto Salad Try taking traditional antipasto and turning into a pasta salad for those hot summer days.

What do you do with your balsamic vinegar?

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