11 October 2010

Toast with Roasted Butternut, Goat Cheese and Saba

When it comes to all things food, I like to think I'm pretty well informed. I spend a lot of time (probably an unhealthy amount) reading, daydreaming, and writing about food, so when something totally new and unexpected in the foodie realm crosses my path, I usually perk up and pay attention. When a mysterious ingredient called saba made its way onto my radar, though, I was pretty slow on the uptake.

Months ago a sweet friend and fellow food lover gave me a bottle of this new-to-me condiment. Saba, I learned from the luxuriously decorative bottle label and some googling, is a syrupy reduction made in Italy from grape must--a byproduct of wine-making. Apparently, during her tenure at San Francisco's Pizzetta, my friend would serve saba drizzled over fresh summer fruit and berries. It certainly sounded intriguing but since it wasn't yet summer and I had no fresh berries on hand, I left my bottle of saba unopened, happy enough that it would grace my kitchen shelf with its beauty.

Then, a few weeks ago, I received the latest issue of Saveur magazine. Lo and behold, within its pages was a lovely little piece on saba's Spanish sister, arrope, a syrup made from muscat grape must. The story featured chunks of pumpkin, simmered in this dark syrup, and served with bread and goat cheese. I immediately thought of my bottle of as-yet-unloved saba and before long whipped up what's now my new favorite appetizer (actually, who am I kidding? It's my new favorite meal!). Saba, it turns out, is fabulous! Its flavor is difficult to describe--kind of like a combination of molasses and a good balsamic vinegar.

In my riff on the Saveur recipe, I drizzled saba over bread spread thick with bucheron cheese and topped with chunks of roasted butternut squash and beets. Saba's sweetness make is a particularly great counterpoint to the saltiness of fresh cheese and helps bring out the sugar in the veggies. As delicious as this first experimental combination was, I'm already itching to try out some other possibilities. Next time around I'm thinking some kind of roasted winter squash or pumpkin pureed, and then spread on toasted slices of bread, topped with crumbles of goat cheese or grated sheep cheese, and finished with a flourish of saba. I'm sure it would also make a fantastic glaze for roast chicken.

As we transition from summer to fall and even slight shifts in the weather shed a different light on things, it's the perfect time to seek out something new to taste. Whether it's saba (available here in TX at Central Market) or something else altogether, you never know what delicacies you might discover.