Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Deliciousness of Skillet Pasta

Some foods just have a higher deliciousness factor, a certain je ne sais quoi. It is an intensely savory taste that is not sweet, salty, sour or bitter. It is the fifth taste that Japanese Dr. Kikunae Ikeda termed, umami. This sensation he discovered in 1908 literally means, deliciousness or yummy. It explains the mysterious allure of dashi stock. It is the flavor of the those tasty bits stuck at the bottom of a chicken roasting pan or the Parmesan cheese melting into the tomato and pancetta on a pizza. The Umami Information Center (yes, there is one!) describes it as:

Taking its name from Japanese, umami is a pleasant savoury taste imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods including meat, fish, vegetables and dairy products. As the taste of umami itself is subtle and blends well with other tastes to expand and round out flavors, most people don’t recognize umami when they encounter it, but it plays an important role making food taste delicious."

When you combine several umami-rich foods, the flavor doesn't just add together, but multiplies significantly. It explains why certain foods topped with cheese are enigmatically elevated in flavor. Thank goodness my habit is now justified by science! Jonah Lehrer, science writer at NPR, describes the sensation as similar to a low resonant chord played on a cello, and it was French chef, Escoffier's secret. His long and slow cooked umami-rich veal stock wowed the French culinary world, and changed the way sauces were made.

I recently had lunch with 2 of my sisters and several friends. I ordered Salmon on a Plank served with Roasted Vegetables in a Balsamic Glaze. Our conversation started shifting to the background as I focused on the deliciousness on my meal. Eureka....Umami! My sister Sandy, and I had both ordered the same thing and sat there looking at each other saying, "Mmmm, this is good!!" It was like a party on the tongue. A few days later, as I sat looking out at yet another winter snowstorm, I decided to re-create that party and make a variation of my lunch using pasta. I had a bag of Italian taconelli pasta, penne and an abundance of umami-rich foods in the larder.
I fired up my cast iron skillet and started concocting. The finished dish was definitely delicious, and I think as I took my last bite I may have muttered something like, "Yum-ami!" And it was.

Yum-ami Skillet Pasta

6 ounces dry pasta, cooked al dente
4 tablespoons, or more, extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup red onion, sliced and quartered
4 asparagus, sliced on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
8 cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons pine nuts
12 dried and reconstituted chanterelle mushrooms, or fresh and sliced mushrooms
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4-1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
2 handfuls fresh arugula, rinsed
2 very thin slices proscuitto, sauteed briefly until crispy
1-2 ounces fresh goat cheese

In a heavy or cast iron skillet over medium low heat, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and heat. Add the onion, asparagus, cherry tomatoes and pine nuts. If using fresh mushrooms, also add those now. Stir while sautéing, until the onions are cooked and start to caramelize.
Add garlic and if using dried mushrooms, add those now. Stir until the garlic becomes soft, being careful it doesn't burn. Add the balsamic vinegar and anchovy paste, stirring until the balsamic vinegar reduces slightly to form a glaze. Add hot cooked pasta, toss in the arugula and stir until the arugula is slightly wilted. Add more olive oil, if needed, to evenly coat the pasta.Transfer to a serving platter or individual pasta bowls. Top with dots of fresh goat cheese and crumble the proscuitto over the pasta before serving.Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a side dish.
Read and listen to NPR's article, "Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter...and Umami" here.
"Proust was a Neuroscientist", by Jonah Lehrer

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linda said...

diane, as always, what a fabulous & interesting post!

i cannot wait to re-create your pasta dish…as this household loves all these ingredients!

Karen @ Mignardise said...

Oh wow...this is my kind of dish! I'll be making it for sure. The photos of the raw ingredients are absolutely stunning!

Deana Sidney said...

I am so down with you on Umami... it just makes everything a little richer like light at the end of day (what we in the film biz call golden hour) does to everything it touches. I feel like cognac and madeira add that to dishes and of course that beautiful brown stuff on the skillet after frying meat or fish.. it is the best!

Great pasta and, well the noodle words made me laugh... perfect photo still-lifes!

La Table De Nana said...

It IS a great post..We Yumaminously agree!

Right down to the tiny YUM.
Thank you..
You're so talented.Great taste:)

Edible Art said...

amazing, bright, vivid & creative pictures!

im suffering from a bit of nostalgia from my childhood though, your pictures of the random assorted vegetables & pastas remind me of a childhood book i use to own called " i Spy " haha! ever heard of it?

some of these recipes look delicious as well!
i will def. follow, & if you could do the same it would be greatly appreciated (:

i will def. be a regular at this blog! thanks for all the great recipes ! keep it up !

2 Stews said...

Linda...Thanks! I hope you enjoy it. A big bowl of tasty pasta helps to take the chill out. Hope you are surviving this winter well. It has been challenging!

Karen...It's like pot luck...I make the main dish and you supply the Nutella treats!

Deana..."The golden hour." I like that name for a time of day that is a favorite of mine. The golden cast of the sun is umami for the warming and magical. And yes, Cognac and Madeira do the same.

Monique...I think I might steal that word, "Yumaminously." Love it!!

Edible Art...Yes, I remember the books, "I Spy." I used to read them to my children. Maybe I was subliminally affected, as well! I always liked a clean graphic look. I took a peek at your blog...what fun! I'll be a regular!

Thanks all, for the visits and kind words. Have a great week!!


Amber said...

Thanks for a great dinner idea from a fellow FA! I added in some roasted beets as I had beets to use up and love beets with goat cheese. I also forgot the nuts, but didn't miss them. The flavor combination was amazing :-)
Lovely blog, you take excellent food photos (which really is why we all read blogs right?).

Meg Luby said...

great dinner idea! thanks for sharing!

Kate at Serendipity said...

Oh, Diane, this looks amazing. I love this kind of cooking--what's in the pantry + what's fresh in the market + a little inspiration = an amazing meal.

Your photos are gorgeous. I LOVE the pasta letters spelling out stuff.

I've been remembering the valentine's day 'party' we had last year too. I miss it. We'll have to do it again next year. Let me know when you'll be in London and we'll figure out a way to hook up. Hugs from Belgium.

Food Frenzy said...

Fantastic dish. Love the vegetables you used in making it.

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