Today we’re talking about capers from Pantelleria, tiny but very rich in flavour. But there’s more, we’ll also discover caper berries, caper leaves and the caper production farm that brings Pantelleria’s tradition to the world. Ready to go?
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Truly special flavour enhancer: not just salt!
Salt is the most consumed flavour enhancer in Italy. It’s pretty obvious (you know, we are surrounded by salty water) but there are so many ways to season foods that using just one is quite a shame.
The acidity of vinegar, the scent of aromatic herbs, the intensity of anchovy sauce, the umami of soy and miso sauce: are we just gonna miss them for a pinch of salt?
How do you enhance a flavour?
Let’s be clear: we do not support artificial flavour enhancers. Glutamates, inosinates and various additives do not interest us, we do not know them.
Here we exclusively talk about natural enhancers, foods that can intensify the flavour of the dishes to which they are added.
Each of these enhancers has its own taste, and what a taste! It’s a real challenge between vinegar, spices, anchovies and soy sauce, but what they share is the ability to enhance the flavour of other foods.
If we put vinegar, salt or oregano on a tomato, the taste of the tomato itself becomes more intense. It sort of increases its “tomato-ness”.
Salt, seasons and preserves
The only one that could be on top of the list. Marine or rock salt, coarse or fine, grey, black, red, pink or smoked, salt really has a world of its own.
Did you know that the term salary comes from salt? Because it is a precious thing, that must be distributed in great moderation.
Did you also know that salting – dry or in brine with the addition of water – is one of the oldest food preservation methods in human history?
China is the first country in the world for salt production (almost 60 million tons against our 4 national tons), so make sure to always check the label.
Also, we have some of the most beautiful salt pans in the world, between Cagliari, Trapani, Cervia, Volterra and Margherita di Savoia, why purchasing a salt that has crossed half of the world?
I prefer “classic” salt, but if you’re looking for a pinch of colour you can try black Cyprus salt, grey Brittany salt, Hawaiian red salt, Himalayan pink salt, Persian blue salt or Indian purple salt.
It’s a well-known fact that salt is not good for you. other flavour enhancers, from gomashio to herbs, from anchovy sauce to vinegar, are ideal substitutes without giving up taste or well-being.
Vinegar, everything good about fermentation
Vinegar is the result of the oxidation of ethanol by acetic bacteria. To us laymen of chemistry and experts of the table, this really doesn’t say much.
However, I know we’re all thinking the same thing: how good is PGI balsamic vinegar of Modena, made with cooked grape must and aged in wooden barrels?
Vinegar’s world is complex and colorful. Besides PGI balsamic vinegar of Modena, there’s wine vinegar – white or red – apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, coconut, malt, beer or raspberry vinegar, to name a few.
Aromatic herbs and spices, a bouquet of scents
What’s the difference between herbs and spices? The former are often – but not always – used after cooking, while the latter are used for the preparation of dishes.
Spices are obtained from a specific part of the plant and subjected to some treatments (roasting, grinding etc), while herbs are the plant, fresh or dried. The intensity is also different, generally spices are more invasive in terms of taste.
Matchings for all tastes
If we wanted to make a list of spices and aromatic herbs a whole phone book wouldn’t be enough, but here are some you should always have at home.
For herbs prioritize the fresh, freshly picked version. If space and season allow, why not organize yourself with beautiful pots of aromatic herbs to collect when needed?
The must-haves are basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary and chives, as well as mint, dill, marjoram and calamint which are exceptional.
Among spices there are some powdered ones, like paprika or curry (did you know that curry is a mix of spices, in a variable proportion depending on the geographical area the dish is prepared?), others are in form of seeds, such as aniseed or cardamom while sometimes we use the bean, like vanilla, or the cortex, like cinnamon.
Anchovy sauce, our favourite
Here’s our very favourite. Anchovy sauce is a precious distillate, obtained only with the best fish and the most skilful seasoning.
History, tradition and gastronomic culture
As we saw when spoke about anchovies from Cetara, it’s impossible to talk about anchovy sauce without talking about the gorgeous fishing village on the Amalfi coast.
The anchovies are fished, between March and July, with a special fishing boat called cianciola. The fish is cleaned and placed in alternating layers with salt in little wooden barrels called terzigni. Afterwards they spend 18 months inside these barrels, until this precious liquid surfaces.
It is a product that goes beyond the food sector, because it’s part of the historical, cultural and human heritage of a territory.
How to use it in the kitchen?
On spaghetti, but on vegetables as well (try it on endive), on salads, on risotto or pizzas and focaccia bread. Careful with the flavour: anchovy sauce s already intense by itself, no need to add more salt!
Soy sauce, miso and gomashio: the taste of the East
Soysauce is a fermented condiment made with soy, toasted wheat, water and salt. Miso is made with fermented soy too, but it’s in paste and can also contain barley, rice or malt according to the recipe.
Soy sauce is used for seasoning, marinating, as a base for other sauces, or in cooking for the preparation of dishes. Miso is the preferred seasoning in oriental and macrobiotic cuisine, instead of salt or vegetable stock. Miso soup is one to try.
Gomashio, is a large-grained seasoning made of salt and sesame seeds widely used in macrobiotic cuisine but still little known by the "general public”. It’s a real shame, because it’s an explosion of flavour without all the sodium that salt has.
Salt, vinegar, herbs, spices, anchovy sauce, gomashio, miso or soy sauce: whatever it is that most exalts you, have fun trying them all and discover myriad ways to bring the flavour to the table.
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