Giada’s Go-To, Gut-Friendly Flavor Boosters, from Capers to Tomato Paste

flavor boosters
Photo Credit: Kristin Teig

April 1, 2021

by Geraldine Campbell

“Superfood” is overused these days, Giada writes in her newest cookbook, Eat Better, Feel Better — and we could not agree more. While we may all wish for that one food or supplement that will make all of our health woes disappear, the truth is, there isn’t one. And, even if there were, it wouldn’t be the same for everyone. Instead, Giada argues, the true superfoods are flavor boosters, “ingredients that punch way above their weight when it comes to making things taste, smell, or look amazing.” No, we’re not talking about salt, sugar, and fat. Rather, we’re talking about foods that amplify the flavors of whatever your cooking in a way that supports your health, specifically your gut health. Think: olives, lemons, and fresh herbs.

Below is a list of foods you’ll always find in Giada’s kitchen. These flavor boosters take simple, clean ingredients to the next level — and they do it without putting a strain on your gut.

eat better feel better by Giada de Laurentiis
Eat Better, Feel Better by Giada de Laurentiis

1. Capers

These salty little nuggets and their larger cousins, caperberries, burst in your mouth and add briny brightness to dressings, tuna salad, pan sauces, and pastas. Fry them in a bit of oil to create crunchy tidbits to top seafood dishes or salads.

2. Olives

Like capers, olives contribute a tangy salinity to lots of dishes and a meaty mouthfeel that is super satisfying. I prefer green olives to black ones, especially green Castelvetrano olives and Cerignolas, which have an apple-like bite and a clean, briny flavor.

Buy It: Sicilian Cerignola Green Olives, $12 at Giadzy

3. Baby arugula

I probably eat arugula at least once a day! It makes a great counterpoint to richer foods, adds color and freshness in sauces, or works as a bed for anything with a sauce.

4. Fennel

You can eat unlimited amounts of this crispy bulb vegetable—and I do! It’s good cooked or raw, in soups, salads, and stews, or braised all on its own as a side. Substitute it in almost any recipe that calls for chopped celery to add another layer of subtle flavor.

Read More: 3 Ways to Eat Fennel, the Swiss Army Knife of Vegetables

5. Fresh herbs

Tender herbs like basil, tarragon, mint, and parsley have loads of flavor and in most cases are even more nutritious than salad greens like lettuce. Toss them by the generous handful into vegetable and grain salads or your favorite smoothie, or triple the amount called for in a soup or pasta sauce for a boost of green energy.

6. Apple cider vinegar

A lot of the dressings in this book call for cider vinegar. It’s a little sweeter than red wine vinegar and doesn’t have the added sugar of commercial balsamic vinegars. Look for an unfiltered, unpasteurized one, which contains gut-friendly bacteria. It gives sauces a bit of acidity when you don’t want to add wine or alcohol.

7. Lemons

My love of lemon is well documented, but don’t forget about the zest when you are cooking with lemon juice. The little shreds add texture and amplify the lemony flavor of dressings, sauces, and desserts with every bite. The same goes for the zests of limes and oranges.

8. Pecorino cheese

Because it is made from sheep’s milk rather than cow’s milk, many people find pecorino easier to digest than Parmigiano-Reggiano, and the stronger, sharper flavor means a little goes a long way. (It’s also a little easier on the wallet than a good imported Parmigiano-Reggiano.)

9. Anchovies

These tiny fish may be divisive, but in my experience, even folks who claim to hate anchovies love the recipes they star in—after all, who doesn’t like a Caesar salad? They are especially effective at waking up the flavors of vegetables like cauliflower and adding an earthy, salty tang when mashed into sauces.

Buy It: Anchovy Filets in Tin, $22 or Anchovy Filets in Olive Oil, $32 at Giadzy

10. Tomato paste and sun-dried tomatoes

Nothing gives sauces, soups, and stews depth of flavor like tomatoes, but you don’t need to add a 28-ounce can to the pot to get the benefit. Sautéing a tablespoon or two of tomato paste until it darkens and develops some caramelization is an easy way to pump up flavor in many dishes without making them taste overtly “tomato-y”; two sun-dried tomatoes, finely sliced, do the same for a grain dish or a pan sauce.

11. Mushrooms

Whether in a starring role or as a background player, fresh or dried mushrooms provide body, meaty texture, and earthy flavor. I like dried porcini because they are shelf stable, and when soaked, they produce a flavorful broth to soups or risottos, as well as yielding tasty mushrooms.

Get Inspired: 5 Healthy and Hearty Mushroom Recipes to Make for Dinner

Excerpted from EAT BETTER, FEEL BETTER by Giada De Laurentiis. Copyright © 2021 by GDL Foods Inc. Published by Rodale Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.