Whats the big secret ? calyxes, capers and other cra....stuff

There are certain ingredients which are able to lift food further or evoke a cuisine far more than they have any reasonable right to. Fresh (and then I freeze them) lime leaves transport me to Thailand, fennel seed added to fried sausage meat flies me to the Far East and Sumac shuffles and levers me towards the Levant.


Tomato [stems] calyces/calyxes to give them their proper name(s) add more tomato flavour than tomatoes. Remember to take them out before serving up as the kids in particular are likely to imbibe then eject a mouthful over bib/plate/high chair/floor. Locatelli 2003 Anchovy Tuna Pasta is a standard 10 minute dinner uplifted by the tomato stems. It also includes my new favourite 'secret' Anchovy paste (Sea Marmite is the secret child confusing title). A squirt is a remarkable substitute for fillets or whole salted anchovies whenever a recipe needs a salty 'hum'. Its great for revving up gravy (Marmite makes my gravy taste a bit Marmite-y) and super-charging most any lamb dishes with another deeper dimension of flavour; lamb dressed as mutton so to speak. Its the bass note of the weird and wonderful Scotch Woodcock which i think of as the tartan riposte to Welsh rarebit.

Another now ancient revelation was salted capers; crispy golden flowers blooming before my eyes as a result of deep frying in a pan (brimmming with fat recently issued from a 50:50 streaky:back mix). The ultimate toppers for the magnificent BLT transforming an already fantastic sandwich into a rapture. The best capers I've found are from Pantelleria and I panic slightly when my stock runs low, am I a Caperholic ? nothing is wasted as the salt form salted capers seasons my food or even the pasta water. 

Real honest-to-goodness pre-grated bags of DOP Grana Padano & DOP Parmesan (not the weird inedible foot powder with the frightening name) are salad lifesavers with a deeper savour than home grated versions because the whole wheels are cleaned and then grated 'rind and all'. 18% of the pack is grated rind packed with flavour which is why we save them for throwing into stock and soups. Never try and grate a rind at home if you value your knuckles/fingers. For a splendid Summer (HA!) side dish take a borrr-ing green salad, add some judicious pinches of grated grana or parmesan (with a splash of half decent vinegar & oil) and the result is child frenzy mixed leaf medley.

Olives, and particularly Tapenade, are miracle workers transforming dinner with the children from virtual force feeding under duress hovering with a fork to independant ravenous and unstoppable cheek bulging consumption. Pizza, pasta, sauces, salad, stews and soups; everything tastes better with a few of the right olives. OK lunches are enlivened, snacks such as houmous are uplifted and life tastes better.

When deciding how to add olives to food, I match a little like wine; good black olives have a deep dark flavour, oily and tannic with a diesel finish (great with red meat and roasts) whereas green are fruitier, crisper, lighter and more acidic (better for salads and fish). As always the Number 1 rule is eat exactly what you like; degustibus non est disputandum.