A deceptively simple yet potentially impossible combination of tasty ingredients which can result in a mouthwatering epicurean delight or a table full of guests sporting very strange "I just inhaled cheap balsamic vinegar" expressions (similar to "bitter beer face"). The main and necessary ingredients are as follows: Many of you will have already had a chance to sample this dish at a fine italian eatery or at some sort of yuppie dining establishment and were amazed that bread could taste so heavenly. The combination sounds simple right? Following a few rules of thumb you can assure that you don't waste your time; otherwise you may be in for some surprises.
  1. The bread is the LEAST important item. Other people may tell you differently and while it is highly recommended that you find a decent round of foccacia, as long as the oil and vinegar are excellent, you could dip toasted hot dog buns in it and come out smiling. Good foccacia will be half cooked (so you must toast it or bake it for a brief time), ever so crispy on the outside and soft and fresh on the inside. If it feels like stale French bread or it's even slightly crumbly, forget it. If it has been in a freezer or fridge, don't even think about it. Fresh dinner rolls and good french bread make decent substitutions.
  2. Don't skimp on the oil. Olive oil isn't that expensive, if you are chinchy with it you are only robbing yourself. Make sure to get extra virgin oil. If you don't know how to tell good olive oil from mediocre olive oil, the price tag isn't it. Lift the bottle to the light and examine the neck to be sure that the glass is clear, then examine the oil for color. Yellow or clear olive oil is going to suck. You want it to be as green as possible! Do not let the word "pungent" on the bottle disturb you, the flavor will be smooth, mellow and strong in the right ways (not bitter). I picked up a 500ml bottle of "Beniers Estate" for seven dollars (to give you an idea).
  3. Bad balsamic kills it dead... To give you an idea of the quality gradient while buying balsamic vinegar: I have a horrid bottle that my mother bought me which is 1000ml and still has the neon orange price tag which says she paid 4 bucks. She was robbed. The other day, while making the yuppies nervous in a local "gourmet" grocery store; I saw a 100ml bottle of balsamic vinegar for $137.00. Don't freak out though, I snagged a decent 8 ounce bottle of FINI for eleven dollars. Though I still search for the perfect budget bottle, vinegar (at least so far) seems to be a get what you pay for market. Expect to blow at least ten to twenty dollars on a small bottle.
Now that the foundation is out of the way, note the flexibility of the dish as some of the other optional ingredients include: Preperation: Put the foccacia in an oven or toaster oven and cook to desired crispness. Any cloves of garlic or butter should be applied to the bread before cooking.

  1. Cover the base of the flat saucer liberally with olive oil. Make a small puddle (about the size of a silver dollar or smaller) of balsamic vinegar in the center of the oil. To eat, take bread and dab at the center getting a coating of olive oil and a slight glaze of vinegar.
  2. Barely coat the bottom of the flat saucer with a film of balsamic vinegar. Cover liberally with olive oil. To eat; dab straight down firmly into the dish. Pressure will determine the ammount of vinegar that ends up on the bread. Keep the levels even.
And that's all there is too it. Remember; being such an elementary and high contrast dish, the taste is almost entirely dependent on the quality of the ingredients.

Happy munching.

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