Monday, August 26, 2013

Umami-rich Tomato Soup

Umami-rich Tomato Soup
Serves 6 (makes about 8 cups)
Umami-rich Tomato Soup 
This is not your typical tomato soup. It has magic ingredients to boost flavor. What, you say? This is one amazingly terrific tomato soup, which is rich in umami. After sweet and salty, sour and bitter, there is umami – the fifth taste. (Pronounced “oo-MA-mee) Discovered at the beginning of the last century by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese scientist who coined the name using the Japanese term for “deliciousness” – an understatement if ever there was one. Rich, deep and intensely savory, umami exists in a number of foods such as Parmesan, soy sauce, tomato products (juice, paste or ketchup), fish-based sauces (like Worcestershire and Thai fish sauce), many kinds of seafood, mushrooms, and meat, especially veal and stocks made from bones. For years, Western chefs and food scientists (sounds like a great career!) debated whether umami was a true taste.  That changed in 1998 when scientists discovered a glutamate receptor on the tongue recognizes the presence of this 5th taste (Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1998 30;855:398-406).

For home cooks, umami can open up a whole new pantry of ingredients. Just as a few shakes of salt can improve a dish, a correctly applied dash of cheese, wine or even ketchup can pump up the umami, without overwhelming the dish with the flavor of the added ingredient. With this boost, cooks can reduce fat and salt content of foods without sacrificing flavor. Roasting tomatoes increases their umami taste. This recipe, which I have adapted, comes from the famed SF chef Gary Danko. The addition of tomato paste, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce (based partially on umami-rich anchovies), soy sauce and grated Parmesan pumps up the rich, savory, umami taste.
Star of the show...tomatoes from my garden!!
I make this soup year round – and in the summer use tomatoes from my garden, in the winter I use canned whole tomatoes from Italy. I have regularly canned the soup, which has become a frequent hostess gift or holiday gift. Just scale up the amount so you have plenty to freeze, can and give away! (Canning instructions to follow on a future blog, see: Long-simmered Fresh Tomato Sauce - the base)
  • 2 lbs. fresh plum Roma tomatoes or 3 lbs. fresh mixed tomatoes from your garden or 3 (28 oz.) cans Italian whole tomatoes
  • 6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 3 small yellow onions (1lb) cut into ½” dice
  • 3 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp dried thyme
  • 4 Tb extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small fennel bulb or 1 large celery, cut into ¼” dice
  • ¼ C tomato paste
  • 3 Tb tomato ketchup
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • ¼ tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 2-3 C chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 4-6 large fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • ¼ C finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Preheat the oven to 375 degree F. If using fresh tomatoes, wash, dry and core them. If using canned tomatoes, drain tomatoes, reserving puree or juice. Halve the tomatoes lengthwise.

Divide tomatoes between two shallow baking pans, arranging them cut-side down in a single layer without crowding. Sprinkle them with garlic, onions, fennel or celery, salt and thyme and drizzle with oil.
Ripe tomatoes from the garden
Roast until tomatoes are slightly browned and tender, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Roasted tomatoes
Mix the roasted tomato mixture with tomato paste, ketchup, Worcestershire, Tabasco and soy sauce. My preferred approach is to put all thru a food mill to get out skin and seeds (although this can be a little arduous…good job for the kids or my husband!).  Alternatively, one could put the celery or fennel, tomato paste, ketchup, Worcestershire, Tabasco and soy sauce in a blender. Add some of the roasted tomato mixture and stock and blend until smooth.  
Food mill....a great workout!
Skins & seeds left behind in the food mill.
If blended, strain mixture through a medium strainer into a pot, pressing the solids with the bottom of a ladle or a rubber spatula to remove the seeds and small skin particles. Working in small batches, continue to put thru mill or blender and strainer. Add the final reserved puree or juices from the can and the remaining stock into the pot, using 2 C liquid total.

Bring soup to a slow simmer over medium-high heat, stirring to combine, about 10 minutes. Thin mixture with additional stock if necessary. Add salt as needed.

Serve in bowls with a sprinkle of basil; perhaps some shredded mint, cheese, or croutons. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil just before serving. For the croutons, I love the method I shared in “Pickled Vegetable Salad with Anchovy Dressing” posted July 22, 2013 (  For the Parmesan crisp – see Roasted Red Pepper & Eggplant Soup posted April 8, 2013 (
Ready to eat!
Serve the soup with a grilled cheese sandwich, some dry rose Champagne would be nice or Chianti, Gewürztraminer or Sauvignon Blanc!

Bon Appetit


Monday, August 19, 2013

Grilled Shrimp, Watermelon, Corn & Burrata Salad

Grilled Shrimp, Watermelon, Corn & Burrata Salad

Serves: 4

Grilled Shrimp, Watermelon, Corn & Burrata Salad
This is a light entrée salad for dinner or lunch….the perfect summertime meal. It is a dish for a sunny day. The corn is sweet and tender enough to serve raw. Cubes of watermelon provide additional sweetness as well as crisp texture. Burrata cheese, oozing with cream at its center, provides a rich counterpoint for the crisp corn-and-watermelon salad with grilled shrimp. You could substitute a great cantaloupe or honeydew for the watermelon.  Feel free to improvise based on your mood and whatever is freshest and ripest at the time.

Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese, made when leftover curds of mozzarella are enveloped in piece of already stretched out mozzarella and filled with cream, then secured. It is not buffalo mozzarella, although it’s made from buffalo milk. Burrata is its own thing entirely, and you’ll know this the second you taste it. It can be found in the gourmet cheese section of many grocers.

Most shrimp is farm-raised and frozen, guaranteeing good quality and an abundant supply. It is sold by size: small, medium, large and jumbo, or by number of pieces per pound. I always buy the best quality FROZEN shrimp I can find. It is always frozen – even the “fresh” shrimp at the seafood counter of your grocer. It comes to them frozen; they thaw it, and sell it to you – perhaps hours but maybe days after thawing. I recommend buying shrimp raw and frozen. Frozen shrimp with the shell on tend to be of the best quality and flavor. Plus then you get the shells to make stock for another recipe. (Hint, freeze the shells until ready) It takes but a few minutes under running cool water in a strainer in your sink to thaw shrimp. Easy peasy.
  • 1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4Tb olive oil, divided, plus extra for drizzling
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 4Tb finely sliced fresh basil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Kernels from 4 ears of corn
  • 2Tb white balsamic vinegar
  • 3C cubed watermelon
  • 1-2 balls burrata at room temperature
  • Wooden sticks for grilling shrimp - optional

Make sure shrimp is thoroughly cleaned and deveined. Dry with paper towels and place in a one-gallon plastic bag.  Add 2 Tb olive oil, garlic and 1 Tb basil to bag. Gently mix within the bag so all shrimp are covered with olive oil marinade. Allow marinade for 30 minutes, or up to 2 hours in frig. Meanwhile soak wooden sticks in water for at least 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, toss corn with white balsamic vinegar, remaining 2 Tb olive oil and 3 Tb of basil. Add watermelon and season with salt.
Fresh corn--does not even need to be cooked
Remove shrimp from bag.  Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. If using wooden sticks, skewer each shrimp with two sticks in parallel. This keeps the shrimp from curling and makes a prettier final presentation.  However one could easily simply grill the shrimp turning them over one by one. Grill shrimp over medium heat until pink, 1-2 minutes per side.  Do not overcook, as it will become rubbery.

Shrimp on two skewers to keep them from curling up
To serve, I like to arrange all on a platter. Place watermelon-corn salad on the platter, leaving a space in the center for the burrata. Arrange grilled shrimp on top. Drizzle some olive oil over all, especially the burrata.  Sprinkle a bit of finishing salt on the burrata and serve to accolades. Alternatively, one could halve two balls of burrata.  Divide it, shrimp and corn-watermelon salad among 4 salad plates.  Season burrata with salt, drizzle with oil and serve…again to accolades!

This is best served with a white wine of your choosing – or champagne, of course!

Buon appetito!


Monday, August 12, 2013

Marinated Grilled Artichokes

Marinated Grilled Artichokes
Serves: 6
Marinated Grilled Artichokes
Last month we spent some time in the Monterey area, coastal California – in the vicinity of Castroville, the “Artichoke Capital of the World”. In fact, California provides nearly 100% of the U.S. crop and Monterey represents 80% of that. They grow year-round here and are readily available. Their peak season is the spring thru summer with another peak mid-autumn. This is when the bumper crops make their way all over the U.S. Look for them where you live - I suspect they are lurking in your nearby grocer just waiting for you to give this recipe a try.

This summer, it seemed like everywhere we went, these thistles were featured on menus in a variety of ways.  We loved them all. I spent a lot of time thinking about artichokes during that road trip and committed to improve my traditional approach. This is the improved – and perhaps even spectacular – recipe. The addition of the marinade followed by a visit to the grill makes all the difference. You will undoubtedly love it.
Star of the show: Fresh artichoke!
When selecting an artichoke at the grocer, look for one that is heavy for its size and firm. You will want it have a healthy green color, no blemishes and compact center leaves. It stores beautifully in fridge for up to a week. 
  • 4 large artichokes
  • Juice from 2-3 lemons
  • 1 C olive oil
  • ½ C red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • ½ tsp herbs de Provence
  • 1 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • Sauce for dipping artichokes if desired, such as roasted garlic aioli, basil pesto mayo, butter, marinade from recipe, or hollandaise 

Squeeze juice from one lemon into a large bowl of cold water. Cut the stem off each artichoke, leaving about one inch.  Snap off the bottom 3 rows of leaves and discard. Cut off top quarter to one-third of artichoke. Using scissors cut off the pointy tip of any remaining attached leaves. Cut away any dark green areas around the base. 
Cut off the pointy tips. So simple even Larue's husband can do it.
Immediately submerge into cold lemon water to prevent browning while you ready remainder of artichokes. Once done with all four, cut each lengthwise into quarters. Using a small paring knife or grapefruit spoon, cut out choke and prickly leaves from each quarter. Submerge each back into the cold lemon water as you prepare all quarters.
Scoop out the fuzzy stuff with a grapefruit spoon
Leave the cut artichokes in cold lemon water
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add artichoke quarters and boil until tender, about 8-10 minutes.  Use a fork to poke the bottom to assess tenderness. Remove, drain and let cool.
Cooked until tender
To make marinade, whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, and juice from ¾ of a lemon, salt, pepper, herbs De Provence and garlic. Pour over cooked artichokes. At this point leave on counter at room temperature all day. I often cook the artichokes the night before and marinate in the morning, leaving them all day on the counter or in the fridge all day.
Cooked artichokes in the marinade
Heat grill to medium-high. Place artichokes on grill, brushing frequently with marinade. Grill until you see char marks and they are warmed through, about 5-10 minutes per side.
Grill on medium-high to char them. The marinade can flare, so be careful.
Place the artichoke quarters on a serving platter, squeeze that last ¼ lemon over all and place them surrounding a dip of your choosing. Serve warm or room temperature. 
Grilled artichokes on display
I used a store-bought roasted garlic aioli for dipping, which was fabulous. Other options are listed above.  But, truth be told, these babies would be great on their own without anything at all. If you have been hesitant to eat artichokes in the past, this is your conversion recipe. Serve with a dry white wine like a chardonnay and enjoy!