mercato

Last Saturday, the husband and I spent the day strolling through the Mercato Centrale in Florence.

We trolled the vegetable stands, sampled the wares of the cheese purveyors and ate lunch upstairs in the grande dame of any food court we’ve ever visited.

Most of our day, though, was spent at Marconcini, a shrine to all wines (and olive oils and vinegars and spirits) Italia. While there, I found and promptly fell in love with a bottle of saba.

“Can we get it?” I asked my husband.

“What’s one more?” he answered, surveying the wines, oils and vinegars we’d already stacked on Marconcini’s counters.

The fruits of our shopping labors at Marconcini. The saba is in the tall, slender bottle to the right of the balsamic vinegar.
The fruits of our shopping labors at Marconcini. The saba is in the tall, slender bottle to the right of the balsamic vinegar.

My saba arrived yesterday (along with my olive oil, balsamico and limoncello). I cracked open the tall, slender bottle and took a taste of the syrup within. Slightly sweet; slightly savory; a little musky … I now understand why Renaissance cooks used this condiment as a sweetener.

Saba is what you get when you cook down the grape must — or wine-making’s residue — for hours and hours. It piqued my curiosity a few years ago when I bought Suzanne Goin’s “Sunday Suppers At Lucques,” then again last summer when I purchased her “A.O.C. Cookbook.” I couldn’t wait to stir it into vinaigrettes or drizzle it over cheese. Unfortunately, I could never find it in my corner of the States.

Now, however, it was in my hot little hand. Could dinner be far behind?

A quick survey of the garden showed loads of spinach waiting to be picked. I had a bagful of cherries from our local garden market, a package of walnuts and some pecorino cheese. Tossed together, I envisioned a main-dish salad worthy of the saba vinaigrette I’d dreamt of making since reading “A.O.C.”

Ah, that vinaigrette! It was as good as Goin had promised: Sweet from fresh fruit; biting from shallots; silky from olive oil; and savory-tart from the saba. The husband and I ended up eating our salad straight from the serving bowl.

“Worth the purchase?” I asked him as we licked our fingers.

“The purchase?” he exclaimed. “This was worth the whole trip!”

saba salad

 Spinach, Cherry & Walnut Salad With Saba Vinaigrette (adapted from “The A.O.C. Cookbook”)

cherriesFor salad:

  • 6-8 ounces baby spinach
  • 1 cup halved, pitted sweet cherries
  • 1/2 cups walnuts, candied if desired (recipe follows)
  • 2-3 tablespoons coarsely grated pecorino cheese

For saba vinaigrette:

  • 8 red seedless grapes
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon saba

spinachRinse the spinach and dry it well. Place in a large salad bowl, then add the cherries, walnuts and cheese. Set aside.

To make the vinaigrette, place the grapes in a bowl. Coarsely smash them, using a potato masher, a spoon or a fork.

Add the shallots and sherry wine vinegar to the grapes and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

Whisk in the olive oil and saba, then season with salt and pepper.

Spoon over the salad and toss well. Serve immediately … plates optional.

Candied Walnuts

pecans

Place the walnuts in a dry, nonstick skillet and toast over medium heat until fragrant.

Quickly add 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup. Stir constantly for 1-2 minutes.

Turn out on a sheet of greased foil. Let cool, then break the walnuts into chunks.

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