Hello friends. This post is full of good things. It’s full of homemade pesto, labneh, four hour slow roasted tomatoes melted into a farrotto (farro risotto) and a burning question – what is umami?
Let’s start at umami before I delve into this fantastic (and easy) dish. Umami is one of the five basic tastes, together with sweet, sour, bitter and salty. A Japanese word, umami can be translated to ‘pleasant savoury taste’ and has come into light as of recently as people are discovering this extra flavour that is in a lot of dishes we’ve always known and loved. In the western world it has only started to be recognised whilst other cultures have been creating dishes intentionally using umami flavours out for over 100 years (lookin’ at you Japanese!)
Its effect is to balance taste and round out the overall flavor of a dish and is often referred to as ‘meaty’, ‘brothy’ or ‘yummy’ but is notoriously hard to pinpoint. So- what is it?
Why? Without getting too hectic.. It’s basically a naturally occurring molecule called L-glutamate which is also present in the additive MSG, which, also, tastes fantastic. It sends feel good messages to the brain that are the same sort of feel good messages junk food sends. This is because the same taste receptor is being stimulated by the L-glutamate as it would with artificial MSG (which is in everything from most salt and vinegar chips, Doritos, flavoured popcorn and shitty fried rice. Basically anything you can’t stop eating!)
What food gives you the feel good feels without the artificial MSG? Think hard cheeses, meats, rich tomato sauces, soy saucs and broths, anchovies in pasta and roasted potatoes.
It now makes sense why you always load up your spaghetti bolognese with a tonnne of parmesan, right? There’s just something about it.
All these foods undergo a molecular change when cooking with heat and the molecule is released, giving the person eating the meal the sensation of umami. Or just damn yummy. It occurs naturally in tomatoes and vegetables if they have been ripened by the sun, so next time your shopping try to avoid tomatoes grown in a greenhouse.
Well I need some umami in my life?! You can achieve umami bliss by incorporating tomatoes in your meal, a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and adding a few anchovies to any pasta dish. For those who need to make a meal and try to recognise the umami taste, this is for you. The taste can be felt on the front of the tongue, or so I was told but I tried really hard to focus on the taste. All I could taste was deliciousness. An umami tasting test – I did the cherry tomato and parmesan
This recipe is so easy to create, moreish and so delicious that you’ll never want it to end. I know I didn’t 🙁 Lucky I made a huge batch and froze some!
This also explains why basically all my recipes contain tomato! Just check out this post here..
This recipe was inspired by a similar recipe I tried from friend and awesome food blogger, The Hungry Babushka. 6 ripe tomatoes, chopped in half get a generous sprinkle of salt and some olive oil and who into an oven, cut side up on 120 deg cel for 3-4 hours. The labneh is straining in the fridge and the farro goes on to boil with 40 minutes to go. It’s all mixed together with some other delicious ingredients, garnished with pesto and parmesan cheese and voila, the most umamiest meal is born. You can thank me later 😉
In all honesty, this flavour makes a lot of sense to me. I have always favoured mash potatoes, shepards pie, tofu udon noodle soups and spaghetti napoli with a decent serving of parmesan. Now I just have a great excuse to always have a quality block of parmesan on hand!
For future reference; here’s some links:
- Foods that contain umami
- An umami tasting test – I did the cherry tomato and parmesan
- More information on umami
Some people think it shouldn’t be recognised as a flavour on it’s own – what do you think? I’d love to her in the comments below.
Have a wonderful day, Bec xx
- 6 large sun ripened tomatoes, cut in half
- 2 cups farro/barley/aborio rice
- 1 400g tin diced tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1/2 cup labneh (recipe in recipe index)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- pesto (if desired) or basil
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- parmesan cheese
- Pre heat the oven to 120 deg cel (235 deg f) and place the tomatoes, halved and seasoned on a baking tray and slow roast for at least 2 hours. Can roast for up to 4. Check half way through
- Once tomatoes are almost done (1.5-2.5 hour mark) cook your farro/barley/aborio rice as per packet instructions. You can cook in stock if you wish.
- Once your grain is cooked, drain and return to a large pot. Melt in the slow roasted tomatoes, tin of diced tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper and lemon juice.
- Top with labneh, pesto, parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper and serve.
- You can garnish with basil leaves or thyme as opposed to making/using pesto.
- Labneh also not necessary. This is delicious on it's own!