img_2175The culinary differences between American cooking and Italian cooking is simplicity. A platter of sliced tomatoes, a drizzle of balsamic glaze, a sprinkling of basil oil, and viola! You have lunch.  During a summer I spent in Italy, I cultivated a taste for figs. It happened while I was touring a winery in Tuscany. They were served with a platter of cheese and drizzled with balsamic reduction that accompanied a flight of red wines I was sampling. I don’t recall the wine very much, but I couldn’t seem to get enough of those jammy dried figs and balsamic reduction. I felt as though I had discovered some brand new taste sensation. Although I was unfashionably late to this culinary pairing, I couldn’t wait to get home to create balsamic fig glaze. Fresh figs have a short season, but I did find dried Turkish figs similar to ones I had in Tuscany to make this delicious balsamic reduction. Since I tend to go through it quickly, I almost always keep a batch infusing on my counter.

Recipe notes: What you’ll need: 1-qt glass Mason jar, cheesecloth, and fine mesh strainer. Active prep time for infusion 10-minutes. For gastrique, 5-minutes active, 15-20-minutes cooking time. Vinegar is made in 2-easy steps, and yields 16oz. Reduction/Gastrique is made in 1-step and yields 2/3-cup. Difficulty level: Easy

img_1207Ingredients:

  • ½-lb fresh or dried figs cut and quartered
  • 16oz balsamic vinegar
  • 3-sprigs fresh thyme
  • 5-black peppercorns

Preparation:

  1. Place ingredients in Mason jar.
  2. Heat vinegar in microwave for 2-3 minutes and pour over figs, herbs, and aromatics.
  3. Secure lid and cure for 7- 10 days.

10-days later:

  1. Strain vinegar.
  2. Using the back of a spoon, press gently on figs to extract as much jammy goodness from the figs as possible.
  3. Discard pulp.
  4. Lay a piece of cheesecloth in strainer and strain vinegar again to remove any sediment and seeds left from the figs.
  5. Pour vinegar into desired bottle and store in pantry.

*Gastique is a cooking term for creating a syrupy reduction that adds layers of complex flavors while transforming an ordinary presentation into a four-star restaurant worthy dish.

Preparation

  1. Transfer vinegar to 2-qt saucepan and bring vinegar to a roaring boil. Allow to boil for 5-minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and swirl till bubbles recede and steam completely dissipates. Do not stir. It disrupts the caramelization.
  3. Return pan to heat and continue swirling in 3-minute intervals between boiling points.
  4. Reduce vinegar by 2/3 or till you see a syrupy consistency developing,  approximately 15-20 minutes. The last 5-minutes are crucial, this is when the sugars are caramelizing and the vinegar needs close attention. If starting with 16 ounces, you should end up with 2/3 cup.
  5. To test, remove saucepan from heat and pour vinegar into heat-proof measuring cup. If it measures more than a cup, return vinegar to pan and continue cooking slightly. If slightly under better to error on the side of caution and under-reduce than over-reduce. Otherwise, the consistency will turn from a syrup to tar when it cools.

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-When in doubt do a spoon test.

  1. Allow reduction to cool completely and trail a tablespoon through the reduction. If syrup coats the spoon like honey, then you’ve reached the desired consistency.
  2. If it’s still too runny, return reduction to heat and bring to a full boil swirling in intervals between boiling points one or two more times. When completely cooled transfer to desired bottle.