We just moved out of our apartment into our first house. During Christmas. During presents. During parties. During a major blizzard that paralyzed the city that never sleeps and slushed and iced its way in with the movers unto freshly stained wood floors. As you can imagine, there has not been any cooking, a lot of take-out but no cooking. Tonight I came home ready to cook and the realities of home ownership smacked me right in the face with a sobering 45 degree reading on the thermostat. The burner was down and I was confined to the bedroom with an electric heater. It wasn’t awful, I had nothing else to do but watch a few hours of the new Cooking Channel in bed. (BTW – isn’t this new station AMAZING??) Since the kitchen was too cold to cook in for too long, I resorted to the emergency pantry. Here comes the confession. I love the flavor of cheap, bright yellow, processed mac and cheese from the box. There is something about the flavor that I can’t figure out but secretly crave. So that was lunch, along with the remainder of a package of Sunkist fruit gems. All the good flavors were gone, the fresh and tart grapefruit ones are the first to go, and all that was left was the nasty red ones. Turning over the package to see what flavor the red one was supposed to be, I discovered in disgust that it’s raspberry! How could they have possibly misinterpreted the delicious and complex flavor that is raspberry?? And of course this got my little foodie brain thinking…
What is flavor? How do we achieve it?
There is a reason for every step within a recipe. Each part is essential, or should be, to flavor development or the cooking process.
The oil man came and fixed the heat and I was able to prepare a more proper meal for dinner. Here is a recipe that is full of flavor and important steps to achieve those flavors.
Shrimp and Asparagus Penne with Concentrated Tomatoes, White Wine and Lemon www.lessonsinfood.wordpress.com original recipe
- 1 lb penne pasta (The shape of the penne is similar in size to the asparagus and pairs nicely)
- 6 cloves of garlic , thinly sliced ( The larger the pieces of garlic the more subtle and sweet the flavor becomes )
- 1 lb shrimp, cleaned and deveined ( For protein, color, texture and a briny sweetness)
- 1 large bunch asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces ( For nutrients, freshness, color, texture)
- 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained ( For sweetness, acidity, moisture and color)
- 1 cup white wine ( For acidity and brightness, complements the shrimp)
- 1 lemon, juiced
- Fresh herbs such as parsley, basil or tarragon ( For freshness and color )
- Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper
Begin to prepare the pasta according to the package directions. In the meantime, begin browning about a tablespoon of butter in a large skillet. This brings out a nuttiness and depth of flavor to the butter. Just as the milk solids begin to brown, add a few tablespoons of olive oil to extend the butter and raise the smoke point of the mixture so it does not burn. Add the sliced garlic and watch carefully as it begins to turn lightly golden.
Pat the clean shrimp dry so it can sear up in the pan and achieve a crust rather than steam and become mushy. Over medium high heat, saute the shrimp. Flip to the other side once the first side becomes opaque and pink. Once the shrimp has been seared, remove from the pan and place on a plate. Add the asparagus to the pan and cook for 3-5 minutes and remove from the pan. It is important not to over cook the asparagus because it will be put back into the pan later. Add the white wine and lemon juice to the pan along with the drained diced tomatoes. Scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, this will bring more flavor to the sauce. As the pasta boils, continue to cook the tomatoes over high heat until all the liquid is absorbed and the pan becomes dry, at least 10 minutes. This will concentrate the flavor as the liquid evaporates and the mixture reduces. Flavor = reduction. Taste the concentrated tomato mixture and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, the flavor will be tart from the acidic wine and lemon. The most important thing you can do to improve flavor in a dish is to taste often and season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Kosher salt has a cleaner less chemical flavor and is larger and more jagged, so it seasons more evenly. Freshly ground pepper, especially the tri-color kind, blows the pre-ground stuff away with fruitiness and bite. Remove the cooked pasta directly from the water and place into the pan with the concentrated tomato mixture. Add olive oil and some of the starchy salted pasta water to moisten the sauce if needed. Add back in the shrimp and asparagus and fresh herbs of your choice. Toss together and serve immediately. Garnish with fresh lemon and freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese for a salty finish.
Enjoy a flavorful dish!
The Cooking Teacher