Thursday, March 31, 2011

Quick Pasta Special

We all have them - those days when we are just so busy and fast food beckons to us. So convenient. So quick. So yucky. I don't know about you, but I get tired of going to a fast food restaurant and having to special order. And even then not being sure about how it was prepared. Ugh!

These times call for something quick and easy to prepare, that still tastes good!

Quick Pasta Special

12-14 oz. pasta of your choice
4 c. broccoli florets
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1/2 c. chopped red or green onions (or a mixture of both!)
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
2 T. lemon or lime juice
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1-1/2 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t. curry powder
pinch of black pepper, cayenne pepper and salt
dash of Bragg's Aminos or soy sauce

Cook pasta, but before draining, add the broccoli. Let set together about 5 minutes, then drain together. Toss in the tomatoes, onions and walnuts. Mix remaining ingredients together, then add to the pasta. Serve. Enjoy!

What the heck is balsamic vinegar? I remember when I first started seeing it used in recipes and thought, wow, this is fancy stuff! I'd thought I was being upscale by using red wine or white wine vinegars! How does a lowly vinegar come to reap such praise?

The ancient art of making a sweet condiment from grape juice dates back centuries. Romans invented the art of making ’sapa,’ a mixture made from boiled down grape juice. As far back as 900 years ago, vintners in the Modena, Italy region were making balsamic vinegar which was taken as a tonic and bestowed as a mark of favor to those of importance. In earlier days, the families cared for the vinegar, perfected it over years and passed it on as a treasured heirloom. They presented small vials to their special friends and even bequeathed it to their daughters as a valuable part of her dowry.

Although it is considered a wine vinegar, it is not a wine vinegar at all. It is not made from wine, but from grape pressings that have never been permitted to ferment into wine.

Sweet white Trebbiano grape pressings are boiled down to a dark syrup and then aged under rigid restrictions. The syrup is placed into oaken kegs, along with a vinegar "mother," and begins the aging process. Over the years it graduates to smaller and smaller kegs made of chestnut, cherrywood, ash, mulberry, and juniper until it is ready for sale. All of these woods progressively add character to the vinegar. As it ages, moisture evaporates out, further thickening the vinegar and concentrating the flavor.

Some balsamic vinegars have been aged for over 100 years. It is this aging process that makes true balsamic vinegar from Modena in Northern Italy so expensive. Luckily, a little balsamic vinegar goes a long way.

In Medieval times, balsamic vinegar was valued for its healing properties. The word balsamico *(from Latin balsamum , from Greek balsamon*) means "balsam-like" in the sense of "restorative" or "curative". During the later part of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance era, the nobility enjoyed the different varieties of vinegar as a refined drink. They believed the vinegar was a natural remedy for the plague. Balsamico was stored in the family attic and tended to as meticulously as an other facet of the family estate, as it slowly matured into a liquid gold. Balsamico came to be a symbol of peace and an extension of the hand of friendship from one family to another, and from one friend to another.

All I know is I like using it in my dishes. Not sure how my daughter would feel if I were to give her a bottle on her wedding day. She'd probably look at me funny. Once I told her it was made from grapes, though, she would totally understand!

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