Move over Sriracha, five local chefs share the global ingredients you should be cooking with right now.
San Marzano tomatoes
Canned and packed with basil, these Italian tomatoes are the key to making the perfect red sauce as far as Flour's chef Matthew Mytro is concerned. "They have a little bit more sweetness and acidity than others," he says. "There's nothing better than these tomatoes when it comes to Italian cooking." When making pizzas at the Moreland Hills restaurant, he purees the tomatoes and puts them on the dough raw to cook into the pizza. "The flavor is unbelievable," he says. If you want to experiment, try making a Diablo sauce by pureeing San Marzano tomatoes, heavy cream, roasted red peppers and Sicilian chilies. "You get this nice velvety, spicy tomato sauce."
You may have had fennel before, but the pollen that comes from the flowers of the vegetable plant has a very distinctive, almost licorice-like taste. "If you rub it between your fingers, it turns into a powder," says Adam Bostwick, chef and co-owner of Cork and Cleaver Social Kitchen. He creates a mix of chili flake, paprika, salt, pepper and a little bit of fennel pollen to season steaks. He also suggests trying it in desserts such as cupcakes. "You can get a boxed cake mix and put a little bit of it in there with cinnamon," he says. "It will take your dessert to another level."
Bistro 185's executive chef and owner Ruth Levine studied for a year with an Asian chef, so she loves to incorporate fresh ginger into many of her dishes such as sesame noodles and even a Jewish chicken soup. "I throw a big mob of fresh ginger in the middle of it," she says. "Using ginger is really good for your health. It gives it a whole other level of flavor and aroma and it adds a significant amount of health benefits too." Try grating ginger over rice or using it in a simple stir-fry with garlic, scallions, soy sauce and chicken. "You'll have a really nice, flavorful dish," she says.
While Fire Food and Drink chef and owner Douglas Katz makes his own version of this Indian spice mix at his Shaker Square restaurant, you can easily find it at your local grocery store. "It's slightly sweet, but it's also got nice spice, and there's a great earthiness," he says. The combination of toasted cumin, coriander, green cardamom, black peppercorn, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg is typically used in sauces and curries, but Katz also likes it as a rub on lamb. "It's also great for an Indian-type salad dressing," he says. "Or you can marinate roast chicken and fish in it. It adds an amazing intense flavor to it."
The root vegetable, which is part of the taro root family, is frequently used in Latin cooking and is known for its mild floral, citrus taste. "It's an awesome replacement for a potato," says Rockefeller's executive chef Jill Vedaa. She plays on its creamy texture for a vegan version of mashed potatoes using olive oil, salt and pepper. You can also fry up slices of the yamlike produce for chips. "The flavor of it is way better than a potato," she says. "I know that's sacrilegious to say."