28 September, 2009

Equinox come and gone.

While afternoon temperatures still hover around 30 degrees Celcius, a shift has occurred, for which I am just not ready: the autumn equinox, when there is exactly as much day as there is night, was last Tuesday. The leaves are beginning to turn, and children wear sweaters in the early morning chill.

The outdoor markets remain stocked with the last of the summer harvest, but the annual fall visits of friends and family have begun, and so have my marinades. Of these, my garlic and rosemary is one of my all-time favorites. I adapted the recipe from one found ages ago in the pages of Bon Appetit.

As always, don't skimp on the quality of ingredients if at all possible.

For instance, a high-grade (read: more expensive), moderately aged (about 6 to 12 years old) balsamic vinegar will never be wasted, and is truly an integral part of my kitchen. I usually have two bottles open, one that is a bit more acidic for salads and vegetables, and an older one for marinades and finishing sauces. Funnily enough, although Italy is just over the border, decent and authentic balsamic vinegar is not something you run across in a well-stocked supermarket--not even in Paris or Lyon. The hunting for this nectar of Modena (do make sure it says Aceto Balsamico di Modena!) is worth it, however. Tip the bottle, looking for vinegar that is thick enough to leave a trace on the glass. Check the ingredient list, it should have no added color or flavor enhancers, like caramel, but needs to contain grape "must" and an indication of age. If you can taste the vinegar before purchasing, look for a smooth, rich flavor--nothing harsh or excessively vinegary. You should be able to enjoy it from a spoon...For a more in-depth article on this fabulous condiment, The Nibble, an online magazine, has a comprehensive history and detailed breakdown of the types of balsamic vinegar.

The most syrupy vinegars, aged 20 years or more, are prohibitively expensive (for me, anyway) and best used undiluted and drizzled very sparingly over fresh, organic strawberries, in season, or a crumbled piece of high-quality (not overly dry) Parmeggiano Reggiano, for example.

Cultural differences do still exist in today's Europe: I didn't have this degree of trouble in locating decent balsamic vinegar in Amsterdam, even though the distance from northern Italy is far greater. But back to the recipe at hand.

You can keep this marinade for a month, as long as it is refrigerated. It has a distinctive taste, as you might imagine from browsing the ingredient list, and does a good job of tenderizing, enhancing to no end lamb, turkey, and chicken. I have never tried it with beef, but then I don't often prepare beef--what do you think? I like it best with pork loin. You can try it with two different kinds of meats, as there will be enough marinade left over for a separate meal. The food processor makes this a moment's labor.

Marinade au rosemarin et l'ail (Rosemary and Garlic Marinade)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey, the darker and more robust in flavor the better
3 large cloves garlic, or half a head of slow-roasted garlic
1 tablespoon rosemary (half as much if using dried)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until you have a thick, fairly homogenous, dark beige sauce. Place the meat you've chosen in a heavy plastic bag, and pour half or less of the marinade over the meat. Close bag, distribute the marinade evenly and refrigerate overnight. Refrigerate the extra marinade for another time.

If you choose pork loin, a half kilo should serve four nicely. Preheat oven 190 C. Discard the marinade and place the loin in a roasting pan. Roast the loin for about 25 minutes, and enjoy the dish while hot. Preferably someplace pleasantly sunny.

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