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The Most Unusual Ingredients Ina Garten Loves To Cook With

Bestselling cookbook author and television chef Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, is best known for her approachable, comforting, and flavor-packed recipes. Each and every one of her culinary creations seems to perfectly combine simplicity and elegance, whilst maximizing on taste. Her talent in the kitchen has led to her inspiring millions of home cooks.

While she's all about making the most out of everyday staples, Garten also likes to introduce her audience to some unusual ingredients that add an extra touch of sophistication to her dishes. These items might not be in everyone's pantry, but they are worth seeking out for the unique flavors they bring.

In this article, we'll explore a selection of Garten's favorite, lesser-known ingredients. Each one has its own unique application, incorporated into her recipes in various different ways to make them look and taste extra special. From elegant flakes of fleur de sel, to delicate candied violets, rich white truffle butter, to fruity framboise liqueur, we guarantee there's something on this list that'll pique your curiosity. So, get ready to be inspired and find out how Ina Garten's unusual ingredients can take your home cooking to the next level.

Fleur de sel

First on the list in Ina Garten's unusual ingredient repertoire is fleur de sel, a prized sea salt that originates from the coastal regions of France. Translated from French, its name means flower of salt, and unlike regular table salt, fleur de sel is hand-harvested by skimming the delicate, flaky crystals from the surface of saltwater pools. Due to this meticulous process, which results in an exquisite texture and taste, the salt comes with a higher price tag than many other varieties.

Garten frequently turns to fleur de sel to finish her dishes, appreciating its delicate, flaky texture and intense salty taste. Many of her sweet recipes feature this salt as a sophisticated final touch. For her famous giant crinkled chocolate chip cookies recipe, she scatters the cookies with fleur de sel when they're fresh out of the oven. This adds a slight crunch and balancing salty element that works perfectly alongside the sweet gooeyness of these moreish bakes. When it comes to making Garten's fleur de sel caramels, the salt is stirred directly into the hot caramel mixture, as well as sprinkled on top before they're portioned into sweets.

So, according to Garten, it would seem that fleur de sel is certainly a worthwhile addition to the pantry. The brand of fleur de sel that Garten recommends, as listed on her website, is Le Saunier De Camargue. You can purchase this salt online at Amazon, as well as in many specialty food stores.

White truffle butter

Few ingredients exude luxury like truffles, and Ina Garten has a unique way of incorporating their delicious earthy flavor into her recipes. She often reaches for white truffle butter — a creamy, softened butter which has been infused with white truffles. According to Garten, white truffles, which tend to originate from Italy, differ from the typically French black truffles, with the former having a more pungent flavor. Her brand of choice is Urbani, and she's been known to order six tubs at a time!

This opulent blend of high-quality butter and fragrant truffle is a product that can instantly elevate even the simplest of dishes. Plus, it's an extremely convenient way to inject an authentic truffle taste into a dish, without having to grate fresh truffles. A small dollop stirred into a sauce, melted over a perfectly cooked steak, or stirred into a creamy risotto can completely transform the overall flavor profile.

Garten often uses white truffle butter to add a gourmet touch to her savory meals. A simple yet sophisticated recipe from her "Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics" cookbook features tagliarelle pasta tossed in a decadent mixture of heavy cream, salt, pepper, and that all-important white truffle butter. In her truffled mac and cheese, the white truffle butter takes center stage, being incorporated into the creamy, cheesy sauce that envelopes the cavatappi pasta. If you'd like to give Garten's beloved white truffle butter a try in your next recipe, you can purchase it from Urbani.

Tellicherry peppercorns

Did you know that black pepper isn't a one-size-fits-all ingredient? That's right, this staple seasoning comes in many varieties, including Ina Garten's favorite – Tellicherry black peppercorns.

So, what's so special about this unique form of pepper? Well, when it comes to these little black corns, the general rule is that the larger they are in size, the more flavor they possess. When pepper is produced, the individual corns undergo sifting, to sort them by size. Tellicherry peppercorns are simply the largest 10% of the pepper crop, which means they're packed with a stronger, more pungent flavor than standard peppercorns.

Garten often uses Tellicherry peppercorns to add a distinctive kick to her recipes. Their flavor profile can be described as citrusy, woodsy, and slightly fruity, making them a standout ingredient in any savory dish. This seasoning comes recommended by Garten in the ingredients guide on her website, and features in countless recipes by the beloved cook, from comforting pasta dishes to simple veggie sides. In her famous rice salad, which includes a delicious blend of tuna, veggies, olives, and cheese, the Tellicherry pepper is cracked over the top before serving, for a warm and spicy final touch. Garten recommends transferring the whole peppercorns to a ceramic pepper mill, which can be adjusted to grind the pepper down as finely or coarsely as you desire.

Candied violets

If you're looking to add a beautiful, floral touch to your sweet recipes, candied violets make the perfect elegant decoration. Ina Garten loves to use these in her baking and dessert creations. With their vibrant purple color and delicate petals, these edible flowers are coated in a thin layer of sugar, which makes them crisp and sweet, with a gorgeous crystallized appearance. Candied violets serve more as a visually appealing addition to a dish than they do as a flavor-booster.

One recipe in which Garten suggests using candied violets for decoration is her chocolate ganache cake. This indulgent bake is a simple one-layer cake, coated in a decadent ganache. Topping it with these little purple flowers is the perfect way to transform it from something plain into something stunning. Garten also likes to top her boozy chocolate rum pudding with smaller pieces of crystallized candied violets.

Violets are available to purchase from specialty edible flower retailers. You can either buy the blooms as they are, or already candied. If you're opting to candy the violets yourself, the process is relatively simple. First, carefully rinse the violet flowers and dry them on some kitchen paper. Then, make a simple syrup by combining sugar and water over medium heat. Once the syrup has cooled, gently pick each flower up with tweezers and dip it into the syrup, before placing it on some parchment paper to set.

Framboise liqueur

Another surprising ingredient that plays an important part in many of Ina Garten's dessert recipes is framboise liqueur. This raspberry-flavored spirit has a sweet, tangy taste with a punchy alcoholic kick, that can provide recipes with a burst of fruitiness.

Garten often uses framboise liqueur to add a stronger depth of flavor to her raspberry-based desserts. One of her most loved recipes is Eton mess, which features a mouth-watering combination of syrupy, framboise liqueur-spiked raspberries, whipped cream, and meringue. She also adds it to her baked chocolate pudding, for a bright and fruity twist, and her raspberry sauce, to give it a slight boozy punch.

Though a bottle of framboise liqueur can be purchased from many liquor stores, this is also one you can try making yourself. You'll need just three basic ingredients — raspberries, sugar, and vodka. First, the raspberries and sugar are added to jars, given a good shake, then left to macerate for half an hour. After this, pour the vodka into the jars, put the lids on, and shake again. Though the prep is incredibly simple, you'll have to exercise a little patience before you can use the liqueur, as it now needs to sit in a cool, dark place for two weeks. The final step is to strain the infused liquid from the solid raspberries using a cheesecloth or fine mesh sieve. This liquid element is your liqueur.

Cream sherry

Cream sherry, a fortified wine made from Spanish-grown grapes, is another go-to alcoholic ingredient for Ina Garten. Sherries tend to have a distinct nutty, fruity flavor and subtle sweetness that can enhance both sweet and savory dishes. Cream sherry is a specific, sweeter variety with a rich mahogany color and extra smooth feel. A good quality cream sherry is typically made by mixing a combination of other fortified wines together, such as a dry Oloroso and sweet Moscatel, to achieve a full-bodied result.

One of Garten's classic, comforting recipes that features cream sherry is her lobster corn chowder. Here, it simmers in the rich broth along with rich cream and savory lobster juices, to create a dish with an incredible depth of flavor. Cream sherry also appears in Garten's chicken potpie soup, used to enhance the broth in a similar way.

But soups aren't the only way to use this flavorful wine. It would also be fantastic added to risottos, pasta sauces, or to deglaze the pan when making caramelized onions. It would fit beautifully into a range of desserts too. Try mixing a little through your whipped cream, or adding it to glazes for muffins or sheet cakes.

Vin santo

Vin santo is another prized variety of wine, this time originating from Italy. This rich, sweet alcoholic drink is typically enjoyed as a dessert wine, possessing the unique flavor notes of both caramel and hazelnuts. In Italy, vin santo is often enjoyed after a meal alongside some cantucci cookies, with the crunchy delights dipped right into the wine.

Vin santo is similar to Italian Marsala wine, though unlike the Marsala variety, it is not fortified. This means vin santo is a wine that has not been mixed with any spirits. Marsala also tends to come in a wider range of flavor profiles, from sweet to dry, whilst vin santo is consistently sweet.

The sweet, deep flavors of vin santo make it a fantastic addition to sweet and savory dishes. A delicious use of vin santo in Ina Garten's kitchen is in her vin santo poached pears. In this dish, the pears are gently simmered in vin santo along with sugar and spices, absorbing the wine's amazing flavors. The result is a dessert that feels super sophisticated, with the richness of the wine enhancing the natural sweetness of the pears.

Montrachet goat cheese

Many recipes call for standard goat cheese, but when it comes to Ina Garten's cooking, she prefers to opt for a specific variety. Montrachet goat cheese is a rich and tangy aged cheese from the Burgundy region of France. At the start of the month-long aging process, this cheese is typically shaped into a log and wrapped in chestnut tree leaves. The result is an incredibly flavorful cheese with a creamy, nutty taste and soft, crumbly texture.

One of Garten's favorite recipes in which Montrachet goat cheese is highlighted is her balsamic roasted beet salad. In this dish, she crumbles the soft cheese all over the top of the vibrant mixture of beets, arugula, and Marcona almonds. For Garten's goat cheese toasts, she naturally also recommends opting for the Montrachet variety. Here, she spreads the cheese onto freshly toasted, garlic and olive oil-infused baguette slices as the ultimate decadent, creamy topping.

Montrachet goat cheese can be sourced from specialty cheesemongers, and some online retailers. So next time you're whipping up your favorite goat cheese recipe, try and get hold of this extra flavorful variety, and you'll see how it can take the dish to the next level.