Archive for the ‘Pre-packaged’ Category
It’s no secret I was a little disappointed with the the Great Lobster Bake of ‘09, but it was still a day spent sitting outside with friends, drinking Pimms and beers, and cracking open fresh seafood, so I have no right to complain. In fact, despite the cooking frustrations, looking at the foot tall pile of emptied shells and carcases I realized that there was still one more thing I could try my hand at making: lobster stock!
As excited as I get about making a proper dish or trying a new technique, lately I’ve really been getting amped up when given an opportunity to make a cooking staple from scratch that I can save andreuse as I see fit. And given how much stock I was able to make with the already cooked shells, I can’t recommend enough how fantastic it is take advantage of crafting up this wonderfully deceadant treat.
Small. And by small I mean buy in small quantities / use in small quantities. The reason for this is because a spoon full of tomato paste can go a long way. Also, I prefer to pick up a couple small cans at a time so if I use a couple spoons worth and it happens to get lost in my fridge I didn’t lose much. An open can of tomato paste is good in the fridge for a little over a week. It’s a task that rarely requires much effort since a spoonful of paste can be used in almost any dish that is savory or has tomatoes in it. Bottom line: this stuff costs nothing price wise, takes up virtually no space in your pantry, and really intensifies a lot of good dishes.
Tomato paste originated in Italy [shocking] where tomato sauce was spread out on wooden boards to thicken and dry in the sun. Then it was scraped together into a ball and used to intensify and thicken sauces or simply eaten by itself as antipasto. The craft of making artisan tomato paste has largely been replaced by the industrial brands unfortunately, but that shouldn’t prevent anyone from trying to make some homemade versions. Don’t be surprised by a tomato paste post once it gets warmer.
When shopping for TP, it’s best to look for cans that are made with 100% tomatoes. Some will have oil and other stuff in there, I’d rather add extra ingredients myself and let the paste simply ad the tomato flavor. Also, tubes of paste are becoming more and more available. I don’t ever see them in my supermarket, but it’s pretty clear that a tube is the best way of storing TP if you’re not a regular user.
I find I use paste a good bit even outside of tomato based dishes. A hearty stew, a rich soup or even as a dip for savory fried foods all require a small spoon of paste or two and you’re in business. If you’re braising a roast tomato paste is only going to add flavor and depth to your dish.
For tomato based dishes the application is a bit more obvious. Pizza sauce, pasta sauce, chili, gumbo, you get the idea. You can even use paste as a substitute for tomato sauce. Just add about 2 cups of water to a 6 oz cans worth of tomato paste and add whatever spices and herbs you want and your in business. It’s not easy to make paste out of sauce you have on hand, but it’s nothing to put a few ingredients with some paste and add water.
WARNING: Despite this being such a useful and flavorful ingredient it can overpower your dish! The rich tomato flavor and acidity can really mask the flavors of a delicate dish so save this application for those semi-loud dishes that need that twang, that burst of intense flavor. Also, if you’re going for a fresh/bright flavor TP isn’t the best addition. Nothing is going to substitute for quality, just sliced tomatoes if you’re looking to add a fresh flavor.
Just remember this simple equasion: small amounts + savory foods = gangbusters
I never expected this ingredient to be so useful, but once I figured out how and when to use it I can’t imagine my kitchen stocked without a few cans. Try it out, see what it adds to the to foods you love, or almost love but think is lacking. You’ll get a thicker, richer constancy in your sauces and add just one more secret weapon to your arsenal of flavors.
Gnocchi is all the rage these days, but there are so many recipes out there for home chefs that in my experience, fall short of hitting the mark. “Just boil water, add salt and boil till the gnocchi floats to the top,” is what you’ll read in most home recipes I’ve come across. Ummm, bullshit. Store bought gnocchi in my experience gets undercooked, becomes chewy, and is nothing in comparison to the dish when made from scratch even if it’s frozen for a week. If anyone has figured out how to cook well with pre-packaged store bought then hats off to you. What am I not getting!?
I’ve tried cooking it longer than the instructions say to, I’ve served it tossed with whatever sauce immediately after pulling it out of the water, and time and time again I’m chewing a starchy mess halfway through the meal. So if you are cooking a dish where gnocchi is the center piece and have the time, honestly, just make your own. It’s a little effort up front to use a gentle touch down, but once the technique of rolling the dough out properly, you’ll be able to make light, fluffy, delicious potato pastries the rest of your life. But hey, we’re all pretty busy right? Have a craving but not the time? Well, one way I’ve found to make the store bought stuff sing is to put it in a casserole dish. Hearty, rich, and perfect with a good Cesare salad this dish is a crowd pleaser and pretty easy to put together.