Friday, October 2, 2009

The Well-Stocked Pantry, Chapter One

You can read a lot about what you should keep on hand to have a well-stocked pantry. I won't bore you with telling you to keep canned mushroom soup and dry bouillon. If you like to cook you probably keep the things around with which you like to cook. In my case, that does not include canned mushroom soup. There are a few canned/processed convenience foods I keep around, but for the most part I stock my pantry with things you can use to make stuff. It's not exciting: flour, pasta, sugar, rice, etc. But what kinds of things might you find in my kitchen that are not in yours, you ask?

Well, how about ten different kinds of vinegar? Yes, I have at least ten different kinds. Maybe more. I stock the ordinary white, which mostly gets used for cleaning things rather than cooking with, but I also keep apple cider, red wine, white wine, champagne, two kinds of balsamic (one cheap, one expensive, sherry, cassis, rice, and Chinese black. Vinegar is of course a necessity in salad, but it also adds depth of flavor to soups, sauces, and fricasees. It is the base for beurre blanc, an enhancer in bordelaise, there are so many ways to use it I'm sure there must be a book about it. I just haven't read it.

Last night I added a tablespoon of cider vinegar to a saute of Italian sausage and apples. It just livened up the apples. Rice vinegar makes a nice dressing for sliced cucumbers when you add a sprinkling of sugar. Chinese black vinegar is fabulous as a dip for pan-fried dumplings and champagne vinegar is the base for the aforementioned beurre blanc. Add some sliced basil, diced tomato and cucumber and it is divine over baked or pan-seared salmon. I use a moderately expensive balsamic to dress the ubiquitous caprese salad, which no matter how ubiquitious is still one of my favorites. The cheap balsamic is reduced to make balsamic glaze, a trick I just learned from my mother. Why use pay $7.00 for a little bottle when you can make your own? I like the cassis vinegar on a salad with anything sweet in it: pears, blue cheese, walnuts. I usually use it very sparingly and in combination with red wine vinegar, just to add a hint of sweetness, in place of adding sugar to the dressing.

Which vinegar is my favorite? At the moment I would have to say that the 7-year old Spanish Sherry vinegar is tops. It makes a lovely, exceedingly smooth dressing with no harsh bite.

Sherry Vinaigrette
2 T minced shallot
2 T aged Sherry vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 C Extra virgin olive oil.

Soak the minced shallot in the vinegar for 5-10 minutes. Whisk in the oil, slowly, until emulsified, season to taste. Toss field greens with just enough vinaigrette so that they glisten. Do not overdress your salad. Generally, people drown their salad in about twice as much dressing as needed. Let the sharpness of the dressing enhance the delicate nature of the lettuce, not completely mask it. Take my advice. I'm always right, aren't I?

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