The holidays can bring about visions of beautifully decorated dining tables overflowing with scrumptious foods on every corner. Smells of turkey roasting, pies baking and gravy slowly simmering fill our senses with anticipation. Every host wants their holiday meal to be memorable, tantalizing and ultimately full of that flavor. You might call it a flavor bomb. You know the kind of flavor that is savory, maybe salty, mouth-watering or one that possesses all of these characteristics. Chefs or home cooks often call this kind of taste: umami. Chefs and food lovers know how to incorporate and layer ingredients to achieve a taste sensation that makes food come alive and will make your guests smack their lips and ask for more.
What is Umami? you ask and How can I add this kind of flavor to my holiday cooking?
Umami is a word describing an indescribable deliciousness; it is savory, rich, yummy. Ingredients such as sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, dried-mushrooms, soy sauce, anchovies, and miso paste possess an abundance of umami. There is a common component in all of these foods and that is glutamate sometimes called MSG in prepared foods. Yes, you read that correctly. MSG was discovered when a Japanese scientist was able to identify specific components in foods that carry that savory deliciousness. He found that all of these foods contained an amino acid called glutamate. Glutamate was then isolated from these foods and made into a staple ingredient in all kinds of cuisine. You don’t have to be a renowned chef to achieve this level of flavor in your holiday cooking. Simply layer umami-rich ingredients like noted Chef Giovannina Bellina.
Let’s take a page from her cookbook, Cooking with Flavor Bombs: Prep It, Freeze It, Drop It & Transform Dinner.
According to Chef Gio, “flavor bombs” are homemade seasoning cubes made of an incredible blend of savory, sautéed aromatics, fresh herbs, vegetables, and spices, or stocks and sauces that you make in advance and freeze in ice cube trays. Due to the abundance of glutamate found in a variety of vegetables, herbs and stocks, they are loaded with umami flavor. When you use the right combination of them in your cooking, you’ll have all your holiday guests asking for your secret or for Chef Gio’s recipes. Additionally, making your own flavor bombs will allow you to use up left over vegetables and herbs from your local market. With the flavor bomb approach, you stock up, chop up, and drop a flavor bomb in every meal.
Here is one example of how to mix and match veggies and herbs to plan ahead for your holiday cooking:
Sage Pesto Flavor Bomb
- ½ cup pecans
- ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¾ cup roughly chopped shallots
- 2 cups sage
- 1 cup parsley
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
Lightly toast the pecans in a dry medium sauté pan over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and roughly chop by hand or by pulsing in a food processor. Set aside.
Add half of the olive oil to the same pan and lightly sauté the shallots over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Pulse the sage and parsley in a food processor to roughly chop. Add the pecans, shallots, remaining olive oil, and salt and pepper to the food processor. Pulse again to the desired consistency. Do not purée.
Spoon the pesto into ice cube trays or small containers, or onto a wax paper–lined baking sheet or tray, and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the Flavor Bombs to an airtight container or a resealable freezer bag.
Photo credit: Flickr user, umami