Thirty or more years ago, balsamic vinegar was relatively unknown outside of Italy. Due to our exposure to gourmet food magazines, television cooking shows and celebrity chefs, there is hardly a household without a bottle in its pantry these days.
Balsamic vinegar actually derives its name from the word ‘balm’, which refers to an aromatic resin or odor, as well as a substance that soothes, relieves and heals.
For hundreds of years, wealthy Italian families have made balsamic vinegar for their own consumption, nurturing their supplies over the years. Passed on from generation to generation, gifting small amounts to treasured friends and honored guests and perhaps even bequeathing some to a daughter as part of her ‘dowry’. Balsamic vinegar came to be considered a symbol of peace.
In about 1980, the popularity of balsamic vinegar soared due to Italian chefs discovering how intense flavors complemented modern Mediterranean cuisine. Local families couldn’t gear up production to meet the new demand. New producers developed imitation versions, consequently many of us have yet to taste truly authentic balsamic vinegar or ‘Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale’, as its known in Italian.
Balsamic Glazed Fig & Pork Kabobs
Cut pork into 1-inch cubes. Combine next seven ingredients; place pork cubes in a plastic bag. Toss to coat well; refrigerate until ready to grill. In a small dish, make a glaze by whisking together vinegar, honey, mustard & oil. Set aside.
On water-soaked wooden skewers, thread pork cubes & figs. Grill, covered, on a greased rack over medium-high direct heat, turning occasionally, about 8-10 minutes. During last half of grilling, brush cooked surfaces frequently with glaze.
Let skewers stand 5 minutes; add a tomato to each. Transfer to serving platter & sprinkle lightly with Gorgonzola & basil. Serve some of your Blueberry & Blackberry Rustic Tart for dessert.
Very often, when I’m deciding what to make for our supper, an idea is derived from the taste of a memory. I don’t know if you’re familiar with smoked Haddock fish. I recall a meal my mother made that was called ‘Finnan Haddie’. It was a perfect cold weather meal. Basically, smoked haddock cooked in milk and served with potatoes and peas.
Finnan Haddie is cured with the smoke of green wood, turf or peat. The name comes from the Scottish town of Findon and the slang word for haddock. In the 1800’s, Findon fishwives hung lightly salted haddock in their chimney’s to be smoked gently over peat fires.
Finnan Haddie has a distinct and unique flavor and can be made into many dishes. It can be combined with other seafood where the smoky flavor carries through and influences all the elements such as in a seafood pie.
This brings me back to supper, which is going to be a seafood pie that I’m going to top with mashed potatoes. I guess in essence could be called Seafood Shepherd’s Pie.
Seafood Shepherd's Pie
Mashed Potato Topping
Bring potatoes to a boil & cook until fork tender. Drain; return to pot & add salt (to taste), margarine & cream. Mash & set aside. Preheat oven to 400 F.
In a saute pan, melt 1 Tbsp of margarine; add shallots, celery, mushrooms, thyme & a pinch of salt. Saute, stirring often until soft & fragrant, about 5-8 minutes. Turn off heat & set aside.
In another saucepan, add cream, chicken broth, flour, salt, mustard & cayenne pepper. Whisk together to incorporate all ingredients. Bring to a boil, whisking often then turn down heat & continue cooking until thick, whisking for about 8 minutes. Turn off heat & add remaining 1/2 Tbsp margarine along with the vegetable mixture. Blend well, taste & adjust seasoning if necessary. Set aside.
Spray or butter a casserole dish. Place cod (or finnan haddie), scallops, shrimp & drained, sliced water chestnuts on the bottom of the dish in an even layer. Sprinkle with paprika & parsley. Add lemon juice & a pinch of salt & pepper. Pour cream sauce over seafood. Top evenly with mashed potatoes.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until bubbly & potato peaks are browned. Allow to rest 10-20 minutes before serving.
- For an extra flavor boost you could top it with some grated 'old' cheddar cheese before baking the casserole.