So, I'm starting this blog with my friend Mara. She named it Umami which is the fifth taste — the first four being sweet, sour, salt, and bitter. Umami is a loanword from Japan, meaning "savory," "delicious," or "tasty" depending on who you ask. Without getting too technical, umami is glutamate, a form of glutamic acid discovered at the bottom of a bowl of broth by a Japanese researcher in 1907. Happily, it occurs naturally in many of my favorite foods, including pork, oysters, tomatoes, and shitake mushrooms, all of which you'll find frequently in this blog (minus the pork and oysters when Mara, a vegetarian, posts).
Mara has a doctorate in English and loves words. (I'm telling you up front: do not ever challenge her to a game of Boggle; you don't have enough scrap paper.) She chose the name Umami because it's a play on words — our blog is about taste, of course, and we're both single "mommies." And while we're far too cool to think of ourselves as typical moms, it's inescapable; we are. Mara has a 10-year-old boy, and I have a 13-year-old girl. In this blog, we'll primarily focus on taste, but the mother thing is bound to show up now and then.
You won't hear from Mara tonight. She's out to dinner with her new boyfriend, Joe. I don't have a new boyfriend, so I'm at home cooking dinner for the aforementioned 13-year-old. We're having baked pasta with cheese and vegetables because I need to be comforted — probably because of the whole not out to dinner with my new boyfriend thing. But at least it's farmer's market day, which is always a pick-me-up. On my way home I stopped by the Siena Farms stand (owned by the people behind Oleanna) to buy something to roast.
As my comfort food bubbled in the oven, I curled up with a comfort book, Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser. I never seem to tire of her journey from single, slightly uptight foodie in Manhattan to more relaxed, married foodie in Brooklyn. Jeffrey Steingarten declares on the cover that Amanda is "one of the best, if not the best, of the young food writers." And as I settled in and turned the page, I suddenly wondered — why isn't Jeffrey Steingarten saying that about ME?
Now, don't get me wrong. I love Amanda Hesser. I'm a weak flyer at best and she is single-handedly responsible for my mental health on planes, suggesting that I pack foods that I love in my carry-on bag. Thanks to Amanda, I always feast on a high-altitude picnic of raspberries, sopressata, and chicken salad to get me through the terror. And I know that she's a talent. I saw how Amy Adams cowered in Julie and Julia when Amanda was stopping by for boef bourguignon. Plus she is completely charming, and I miss her Sunday articles. But when it comes right down to it, I want to be a food writer, and jealousy can be a great motivator. I cook all the time; I obsessively photograph my meals; I've been eating since I was a kid; I have stories to tell. If I could name the one thing that I want to do in the world, it's cook, eat, and write about it, and fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), the Internet has made it so anyone in the world can write about what they eat. Mara and I have been talking about starting this blog for months, but, in the end, it was Amanda who got the words out of my head and onto the screen.
So, here we are: Umami. Mara and I will take turns each week sharing our recipes and our thoughts on food and life. Mara is in the honeymoon period of dating, so it might just be me for a while, but I'll try to keep you entertained.
My Siena Farms pasta, veggie, cheese creation was decent, but not good enough to post here. Plus, I'd have to spend hours cooking and tasting to get the recipe right, and we all know that single working mothers-turned-food writers don't always have time for that sort of thing. Instead, I'll give you my inspiration: a baked pasta recipe from the first Gourmet cookbook. It's the perfect comfort food for fall. You could even make it for a date.
Baked Pasta with Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and Prosciutto
(adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook)
2 T olive oil
2 c finely chopped onions
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t red pepper flakes
1 t dried basil, crumbled
1 t dried oregano, crumbled
1 lb mushrooms (I use a combination of shitake and button since shitake are $11.99/lb)
1/4 stick unsalted butter
3 T flour
2 c whole milk
2 28-oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped (Don't buy diced tomatoes; they are usually the ones not good enough to be canned whole.)
1/4 lb thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into strips (This can be left out should Mara or another vegetarian come for dinner. I usually just keep it on the side in that case. You can easily incorporate it into your own portion.)
1 c Fontina, grated
1 c Gorgonzola, crumbled
1 1/2 c Romano, grated
2/3 c Italian parsley
1 lb farfalle
Preheat oven to 450F. Butter 3 - 4 quart baking dish.
Heat oil in a large skillet over moderately low heat. Add onions, garlic, red pepper, basil, and oregano, and cook, stirring until onions are softened. Add mushrooms. Increase heat to moderate, and cook, stirring, until mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
Melt 3 T butter in the same skillet over moderately low heat. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes to make a roux. Add milk in slow stream, whisking, and simmer, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Pour sauce over mushroom mixture. Stir in tomatoes, prosciutto (if using), Fontina, Gorgonzola, 1 1/4 c Romano, and parsley.
Cook pasta for 5 minutes. Drain well.
Add pasta and salt & pepper to taste to mushroom mixture and toss until well-combined. Transfer to buttered baking dish, sprinkle w remaining 1/4 c Romano, and dot with remaining 1 T butter. Bake until top is golden and pasta is tender, 25 - 30 minutes.
I've had this serve three or eight — depending on the amount of comfort needed.