May 16, 2013

Baby Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Aged Balsamic

The combination of fresh seasonal strawberries and aged balsamic vinegar is a classic Italian treat. It is remarkably simple and dummy proof to put together yet happens to be an intoxicatingly sublime combination. Adding fresh baby spinach and a generous grinding of black pepper brings a savory balance to the sweetness and makes a delicious and beautiful Spring salad.

Authentic aged balsamic, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, is rich in character and history. It has a distinct flavor that comes from centuries old traditions of fermentation and aging in a variety of wooden casks. This liquid gold that has been touted for its therapeutic properties, is viscous, sweet, tart, and almost black in color. It truly sits in a class of its own, and is often referred to as the vinegar from the Gods. Such unique qualities and a 12-25 years of aging have earned it the D.O.P. seal (the Protected Denomination of Origin), which guarantees its origin and the authenticity of the methods used in its production. Only a select group of European products bear this official stamp of distinction. Although a small bottle of authentic Balsamico Tradizionale can cost a small fortune, there are some excellent affordable commercially produced aged balsamic vinegars that can be found for under $50 per bottle. But you can also cheat a bit by reducing an inexpensive balsamic vinegar with a sprinkling of sugar in a saucepan by about two thirds. It will not have the character and depth of flavor that you get from a truly aged balsamic, but it will do the trick for a salad such as this.

Spinach is an excellent source of vitamins A and K, manganese, folate, magnesium, dietary fiber, calcium, protein, and flavonoids. Strawberries provide a rich source of vitamins C and K, dietary fiber, and flavonoids. They are also a good source of vitamin B1, manganese, iodine, and folic acid. Their unique and powerful flavonoid content makes them a valuable protector against inflammation, cancer, and heart disease.

During the peak of stone fruit season this Summer, try substituting fresh sliced peaches or nectarines for the strawberries. It will be an equally special combination.

Baby Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Aged Balsamic

Serves 4

For all ingredients, please consider using those that have been grown organically.

6 ounces baby spinach leaves
1 pint, about 10-12 strawberries, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh mint, torn or chiffonade
2 tablespoons slivered or sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1-2 teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar or balsamic vinegar reduced by 2/3
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
 pinch sea salt
 liberal grind freshly ground black pepper

Combine the spinach, strawberries, and mint in a large bowl.

Drizzle the balsamic and olive oil over the salad. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper.

Gently toss the salad together and top with the toasted almonds.

It is best served immediately, but will hold up if using for a buffet.

Categories: Fruits, Salads, Spring & Summer

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