Saba, the new condiment in my life
The other day, our gardener, Codie Conigliaro, was jumping for joy when she explained she had recently discovered a new ingredient called Saba that might be of interest for my blog. Codie, an Italophile, had learned about it on one of her garden tours to Tuscany. “It will change your life. You drizzle it on your cheese, your yoghurt, roasted fruits, baste fish with it, throw it into a meat sauce…...everything tastes better with it!” she gushed. “My Fairway carries it in the condiment section. You have to try it.”
So, what was this mystery ingredient that sounded vaguely familiar to me? I walk down to Kalustyan’s, Curry Hill’s spice mecca— and my favorite store in Manhattan—and plucked a bottle off the shelf. That evening I made a risotto with roasted butternut squash, and lots of celery and onions. To finish it off, I topped the mound of grated Parmesan cheese with a generous drizzle of Saba. It was delicious. And, it tasted like good ol’ Balsamic vinegar.
And the difference? Simply put: aging and price. Like Balsamic vinegar, Saba is cooked grape must (unfermented grape juice-the same grapes used for making wine) from Italy which changes its name depending on where it is produced: saba is from Sardinia; sapa from Emiglia Romagna; and vin cotto from Apulgia. Other countries make it as well such as Palestine where they call if dibs and Turkey where is it known as pekmez.
Naturally, it tastes like Balsamic vinegar—thick, decadently sweet with an acidic edge—but it is dramatically less expensive as it does not have the same aging. It also lacks the depth of flavor and viscosity. That said, as it is more reasonably priced, you feel freer about using it as an ingredient.
To prove my point, I noticed that I still have the same unopened bottle of aged Balsamic vinegar a friend gave me on my counter, waiting for that perfect culinary moment which never comes. The sweet price point of Saba gives you the license to drizzle it with abandon on anything you like.
So, if you want to dress up a cheese platter, or give an exotic dimension to roasted vegetables or a sauce for meats, just add a few drops of Saba. I plan to use it to baste my leg of lamb for Easter. It is an affordable decadence. Try it!