The first time we heard about using Balsamic vinegar with strawberries, we gagged. We incorrectly insisted that vinegar is for salad, for pickles, for condiments; it’s not for dessert and it’s certainly not for fruit. Balsamic is cider vinegar’s syrupy, umami cousin that is for swirling in olive oil and eating with warm baguettes. It’s rich and inky and makes cheese taste more like cheese. The second time we heard about using Balsamic vinegar on strawberries, our lovely friend Esther ignored our protests and made us taste it anyway. We are so glad that she did.
Something magical happens when you put vinegar on strawberries. It’s pungent but delicate, and makes sweetness sweeter without tasting sugary. You know the part of berries that just tastes “red?” It makes that taste…redder? Better. Something. Fucking gooooood.
Even though you don’t really need to do anything beyond putting vinegar on strawberries and putting that in your face, we decided to turn the surprising combo into an ice cream topping. Initially we tried it because the milky whiteness of vanilla ice cream with the deep purpley brown of the balsamic and redness of the berries looked super striking. Now we use it because when the ice cream melts and mixes with the balsamic it makes, basically, adult Strawberry Quik. Pistachios were added, because they were on hand, and the salt they contributed did what salt does and made everything taste more like itself.
If you don’t have vanilla beans handy, spare yourself the pathetic, over priced, misery that is the super market vanilla bean. At damn near $10 a bean, the stuff at the Jewel (or even Whole Foods) has probably been sitting on the shelf for a year, suffocating in a plastic bottle. It’s not worth your money, and you’d be better off using a splash of vanilla extract or omitting it all together. However, if you are into getting your hands on some real beans, you can find prize beauties on Amazon for less than $0.25 a bean. Rachel ordered a pack for $27 bucks from JR Mushroom & Specialties, and got well over 100 of the plumpest, juiciest, oiliest vanilla beans that she’d ever seen.
Strawberry Sundae with Balsamic Vinegar and Pistachios
- 12 strawberries, hulled and sliced
- 1 pint of vanilla ice cream— if you feel fancy, we love this recipe by David Lebovitz
- ½ cup of balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp sugar— we used vanilla sugar, but any will do. Brown, white, Turbinado, honey, whatever.
- 1 vanilla bean, scraped
- A handful of shelled and salted pistachios
Serves: As far as we’re concerned, One. But, if you’re feeling generous, this could serve 4-6.
In a non-reactive saucepan, bring vinegar, sugar, and vanilla bean guts to a boil. Use low heat. Reduce to the consistency of pancake syrup. You’ll need to watch it closely, and stir almost constantly, because there are a lot of natural sugars that taste horrible when they burn, but love to do it anyway. Once reduced, let the syrup cool. Or don’t. Just don’t burn your face.
Top scoops of ice cream generously with the strawberries and a sprinkling of pistachios. Finish everything with a generous drizzle of balsamic syrup.