Balsamic Vinaigrette


For Vinaigrette Week: here is the first vinaigrette I learned as a technique as opposed to a recipe. It's still my favorite - the balsamic vinegar gives it a hint of sweetness that I really like.

I was at a cooking class given by Fat Cats, a local restaurant. The chef did the recipes, while one of the owners kept up a running commentary. They had a good act - It was very entertaining. But, more importantly, I learned two things. The first is, this is just a technique - as long as you know the basics, you can do endless variations. They used Fig Balsamic vinegar, but it was fine if you couldn't find it; just get good balsamic vinegar. The second is that exact measuring doesn't matter - close enough is good enough, as long as you taste afterwards to adjust if you need it.
*I remember something like "Add a half a cup of olive oil. (Glug-glug sound as he pours from the bottle.) OK, that's close enough. (Whisks madly, then dips his finger in and tastes.) A little more vinegar. (More whisking). That's it! Perfect!"

This is the first vinaigrette I teach other people when I'm trying to convert them to my Anti-Bottled Salad Dressing crusade.*
*¡VIVA LA REVOLUCION!

It's quick, and has only two ingredients (well, four if you count salt and pepper). The results are better than anything you can buy pre-bottled. A key point is that you need good ingredients - a decent balsamic vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil. Because there are only four ingredients, the quality of the ingredients matter. Splurge on your balsamic vinegar - don't by the bottle for $2.95; expect to pay $8 or more for it. (Cooks Illustrated recommends Lucini Balsamic). If you can find a good quality flavored balsamic vinegar (I love Restaraunt Lulu Fig Balsamic), try it.

Recipe: Balsamic Vinaigrette


See the Vinaigrette Basic Technique (here) for an overview



Ingredients:
*For a 5oz bag of Spring Mix, or 2 quarts of mesclun mix
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 3-4 tbsp (scant 1/4 cup) Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Directions: Easy Way
1. Whisk to blend: Whisk all the ingredients in a small bowl until creamy.*
*Note: Because you don't have the mustard to act as a binder, you need to whisk hard for this to emulsify. Don't worry if it doesn't; it still tastes great. If you're the kind of person who worries, go with the finesse recipe, below.

OR:

Directions: With Finesse
1. Dissolve the salt: Whisk the salt, pepper and vinegar in a small bowl until the salt dissolves, usually about 30 seconds.
2. Add the oil slowly: Add the oil in a slow stream, whisking until creamy and emulsified.
3. Serve: Just before serving, toss the lettuce and vinaigrette in a large bowl until the lettuce is well coated. Give the lettuce a couple more grinds of pepper, toss again, and serve.



Variations:
*Add 1 tsp of dijon mustard - helps to bind the vinegar and oil, and adds a little heat. I keep flip-flopping on wether or not I prefer this dressing with or without the mustard.
*Flavored balsamic - normally, I'm a traditionalist when it comes to recipes. But this recipe works so well with flavored balsamic, I recommend you go find some. Try Fig, Black Currant, Lemon, Cherry - whatever you can find that sounds good to you.

Notes:
*I like this vinaigrette with bitter greens - spring mix or mesclun mix are my favorites.
*I also use it as a general purpose grilled vegetable marinade - the sweet overtones of the balsamic go well with the charred tastes from the veggies. I've used it with grilled asparagus, peppers, onions, green beans, and especially portobello mushrooms. If I want to get fancy, I put a little aside, marinate with the rest, grill the veggies, then toss them with the reserved vinaigrette.

Inspired by:
Fig Balsamic Vinegar

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