I was foraging in our old pantry as part of transferring ingredients to our new pantry when I came across a bottle of vincotto that I purchased a few years ago on a trip to the Barossa Valley. It was made by the winery Domain Day Estate and I had bought it from a small stall at the Ziegenmarkt community day. I think it may only be made for notable events as I can see no reference to it on their website. The rediscovery of this special bottle was cause for small celebration.
Vincotto or vinocotto is Italian for ‘cooked (cotto) wine (vin)’and was originally made from the excess grape juice or grape must in winemaking. It is created by slowly cooking the juice down so that it reduces and caramelises to a thin syrup. Tangy but not sharp, it is neither a vinegar (which is fermented ripe grape juice) nor verjuice (which is fermented unripe grape juice) but has some of the characteristics of both given the base is grape juice. It is very well-rounded and smooth with the agrodolce (sweet/sour) flavour that is popular in Italian cooking. A good quality vincotto can be served as a replacement for Port and would certainly suit those looking for something less heavy, as an after dinner tipple.
The Italian Diaspora
Pliny The Elder (23 – 79 AD), that inveterate social documenter of the Roman Empire mentions cooked grape must in his most famous treatise Naturalis Historia, so it’s safe to say the recipe must be a pretty old one. For reasons lost in the mists of time, vincotto is known in the USA as saba. Saba is from the Sardinian dialect whilst sapa is from the Emilia-Romagna region. The word vincotto is from the Apulia region. I find it interesting that it’s called saba in the US as in the great waves of Italian migration, the number of Sardinian migrants were disproportionately small in comparison to other regions. Perhaps the locals just liked the way ‘saba’ rolled off the tongue. Either way, they are all the same thing but it’s useful to know this if you are shopping for the ingredient.
Fresh fennel or Florence fennel, is a native of Italy and is the perfect vehicle for vincotto. I love to enjoy fennel or finnochio in its fresh form, sliced thinly as a crunchy salad with segments of orange and currants and a drizzle of vincotto as a dressing. When baked or roasted, fennel mellows in flavours, the faint anise taste greatly diminished. This is the perfect way to introduce people to fennel who may otherwise be a little put off by the idea of aniseed. I make roasted fennel on a regular basis as an accompaniment for pork and fennel sausages with lentils or to serve with crisp little barbecued quail, also basted in vincotto. If you can’t find vincotto, balsamic vinegar would do in a pinch but for those in Australia, Maggie Beer has it in her range.
Vincotto Roasted Fennel w Currants
- 2 fennel bulbs
- 8 tbsp (80ml) apple juice, apple cider or water
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 4 tbsp vincotto
- 2 tbsp currants
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- salt & pepper to season
- Trim fennel, removing base if woody or discoloured and any tall or woody stalks from top (retain fronds).
- Finely slice fennel with a serrated knife in 1/2 to 1cm slices.
- Smear a shallow ceramic or glass pie dish with a drop of oil and then lay fronds (if any) into dish. Place sliced fennel on top of fronds in a neat circle of lines if using a long dish.
- Pour apple juice, apple cider or water over fennel into dish. Drizzle olive oil over fennel then repeat with 3 tbsp of vincotto. Retain other tablspoon for after baking.
- Dot fennel with currants and pine nuts then season with a good grind of black pepper and sprinkle of sea salt.
- Cover dish with foil and bake in an oven pre-heated to 180c for 25 – 30 minutes or until tender (depends of size and number of fennel bulbs).
- Remove foil, baste a small amount of juice from dish over roasted fennel and finish in oven for 10 minutes to allow the fennel and some of the pine nuts to colour.
- Remove the roasted fennel from oven and drizzle with final tablespoon of vincotto. Serve as suggested above or with fresh goat’s curd and crusty bread.
Serve 4 – 6 as a side