It's got the heft and tanginess of balsamic vinegar, but it's cheaper.

By Stacey Ballis
December 04, 2019
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The Italians are particularly good at pantry secret weapons. Whether an anchovy filet or an oil-cured olive or salt brined caper, sun dried tomatoes, jarred peppers, flavored oils, dried mushrooms or bottarga, an Italian larder holds preserved ingredients that can make your cooking sing. And one of the secrets that they don’t share with us often stateside? Saba.

Sometimes called mosto cotto or vin cotto, saba is a condiment made from boiling down must, the grape smush left over from making wine. It has sweetness, to be sure, depth and complexity like a good balsamic, but still plenty of acid to balance, like pomegranate molasses. It has the consistency of a good maple syrup, with a color similar to port wine, and a flavor that is like nothing else.

The first time I had it was on a crostini dolloped with fresh ricotta and then drizzled with saba. It provided just the right counterpoint. I immediately sourced a bottle, and it started sneaking its way into all sorts of things. I like it better than balsamic for caprese salad, but also added to vinaigrettes instead of honey. It makes a terrific addition to marinades, since it is not so acidic that it cooks the meat. It can add a bit of depth to your BBQ sauces or a hint of sweet to your tomato sauce. It shines on a cheese and charcuterie board.

One of my favorite things to do with it is to swirl some through softened goat cheese, smear on slices of baguette, and top with thin sliced pears and a leaf of fresh sage. I have glazed bacon-wrapped dates with it and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes for a sweet and spicy, sticky finish to those addictive bites. It is great in a sauce for your cocktail weenies or mini meatballs, and it is best pals with wings. I use it in both the marinade and sauce.

Watch: How to Make Asparagus with Balsamic Tomatoes

However you choose to experiment, if you find a bottle of saba, take it home. You can source it online or find it in your local Italian market. Some manufacturers add flavors like orange, lemon, or fig, which are really fun to play with, but I find the original to be the most versatile in my kitchen.

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