If you’re a food nerd in Pittsburgh, you’ve been to the Robinson Giant Eagle Market District store. Yes, that’s probably a fact. Not only can you find a variety of specialty pantry items, organic and locally grown produce, local and grass-fed meats, but there is a whole charcuterie section in the back that I’m simply in awe of. Plus, there is never a dearth of free samples. I could hang out here all day.
Although the charcuterie section is probably my favorite part of the store, a close second is the gelato counter near the self-checkouts at the front. Mmmm. Gelato. Just the word makes me melt like, well, gelato on a warm summer day like today. There’s always a variety of tantalizing flavor combinations to choose from, like jalapeno chocolate, various coffees and mochas, perhaps something with hazelnut, and, just one time, a vanilla almond ginger concoction, but nearly without fail I always order my standby: strawberry balsamic. It’s the perfect combination of sweet strawberries, tangy balsamic, and creamy goodness.
Strawberries and balsamic vinegar are a relatively traditional combination in Italian dishes but just seems to be catching on here. Sure, it’s probably been on foodies’ radar for a while, but not in mainstream markets. I’ve seen a few raised eyebrows when I’ve mentioned this gelato in passing, and sometimes people have admitted that they think balsamic vinegar should be reserved for salads. But I say otherwise.
Balsamic is a mild vinegar, with just enough acid to balance and even enhance the strawberries’ sweetness. In fact, I’ve just dipped strawberries directly in balsamic vinegar sometimes to add a little depth, or I’ve made a balsamic syrup (see below) for plain berries when I’ve had the time.
The recipe below isn’t quite the same as Market District’s gelato, but it’s still a delicious way to cool off on a hot summer day. The gelato is great on its own, but if you want an extra kick of balsamic, make the syrup and add just a few drops on top of your serving.
Strawberry Balsamic Gelato
Adapted from Epicurious
¾ cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
¾ cup heavy cream
3 cups hulled strawberries, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon vodka (optional, but it helps prevent the gelato from freezing too solidly)
Whisk sugar and cornstarch together in a medium saucepan. Whisk in milk and cream and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens and begins to simmer. Remove from heat and pour into a large bowl.
Meanwhile, puree strawberries with balsamic vinegar and vodka (if using) in a food processor or blender. If desired, press through a fine mesh strainer to remove seeds (although I don’t bother). Stir into cream mixture. Chill thoroughly (several hours or overnight), then freeze in a ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. If desired, serve with a light drizzle of balsamic syrup (recipe below).
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1-2 tablespoons sugar
Combine the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over low heat until syrup is reduced by about half. Do not boil. Remove from heat and chill before pouring over gelato.