Saffron is a spice reminiscent of the ages. It is exotic and mysterious, a mixture of Asia and the Mediterranean, like Piazza San Marco and the Ponte Rialto of Venice.
The Venetian kitchen is interlaced with spices. Local vegetables and fish are marinated with ‘agro-dolce’ baths of warm vinegar, and allowed to mingle before being served on platters arranged on the time-worn wooden cupboards of ‘osterie’ tucked away in the narrow alleyways surrounding the fish market of this floating city.
The use of sweet and sour marinades is an inspiring kitchen technique, giving depth of flavor and color to the most basic of ingredients. The mineral-gold aroma of saffron is enhanced by white wine vinegar. Saffron infused vinegar is one of my favorite cupboard essentials.
- 500 grams white wine or apple cider vinegar
- 250 milligrams pure saffron threads
Put the saffron threads in a bottle or jar. Pour the vinegar into the bottle. Allow the saffron to steep in the vinegar at least a day prior to use.
♦ Suggested combinations
Use saffron vinegar as a base for a vinaigrette dressing made with equal parts of extra virgin olive oil. Add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a pinch of pink Himalaya salt to the olive oil and vinegar and mix it well with a fork. Taste the vinaigrette for the right balance of sweet, sour and salt. Add a bit of honey or more oil if needed. Serve the saffron vinaigrette with steamed cauliflower scattered with raisins.
Warm the saffron vinegar to a simmer. Poach a filet of fresh white fish in the marinade 3-4 minutes. Remove the fish carefully with a spatula and lay it on a platter to cool. Meanwhile, add two tablespoons of Sambuca to the poaching liquid, and simmer into a flavorful broth at low heat for five minutes. Pour the saffron vinegar broth over the poached fish. Allow the fish to marinate a few hours at room temperature. Serve the fish with sautéed yellow and red peppers and a bowl of boiled potatoes.
Keep saffron vinegar in a bottle or jar that closes well. In the summer it is best to keep it in the refrigerator. To create a sweeter and equally aromatic vinegar, I suggest using honey and white wine vinegar as a base.
The prefix ‘agro’ signifies bitter or sharp. The term ‘agro-dolce’ however refers to the combination of sour and sweet. The use of vinegar baths is a common preservation method of fresh vegetables in the Italian kitchen. Agro-dolce dishes are an integral part of antipasti and appetizers throughout all regions of Italy.
The term ‘osteria’ refers to hospitality and to the historical tradition of providing refreshment to traveling guests. Traces of osterie are to be found among the ruins of Pompeii. Osterie today are informal in character, and may be described as down to earth wine bars serving authentically wonderful local foods.