The culinary difference between American cooking and Italian cooking is its simplicity. A platter of sliced tomatoes, a drizzle of balsamic glaze, a sprinkling of basil oil, and voila! You have lunch. During the 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 a 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 a 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 a 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
- ½-lb fresh or dried figs cut and quartered
- 16oz balsamic vinegar
- 3-sprigs fresh thyme
- 5-black peppercorns
- Place ingredients in Mason jar.
- Heat vinegar in the microwave for 2-3 minutes and pour over figs, herbs, and aromatics.
- Secure lid and cure for 7- 10 days.
- Strain vinegar.
- Using the back of a spoon, press gently on figs to extract as much jammy goodness from the figs as possible.
- Discard pulp.
- Lay a piece of cheesecloth in strainer and strain vinegar again to remove any sediment and seeds left from the figs.
- Pour vinegar into the desired bottle and store it in the pantry.
*Gastrique 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.
- Transfer vinegar to a 2-qt saucepan and bring vinegar to a roaring boil. Allow to boil for 5-minutes.
- Remove from heat and swirl till bubbles recede, and steam completely dissipates. Do not stir. It disrupts the caramelization.
- Return pan to heat and continue swirling in 3-minute intervals between boiling points.
- 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 of a cup.
- To test, remove the saucepan from heat and allow reduction to cool and trail a tablespoon through the reduction. If syrup coats the spoon like honey, then you’ve reached the desired consistency.
- f 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. But you don’t want to take it past this point—better to error on the side of caution and under-reduce than over-reduce; otherwise, it will turn from syrup to tar when it cools.
- Once you’ve reached the desired consistency, let it cool before pouring into a glass bottle.