If you’ve been out to eat at any trendy restaurant during the past five years or have watched any food competition show, you probably have heard of umami. Umami is the pleasant savory flavour resulting from the interaction of certain amino acids with receptors on the human tongue. (It’s a wonder we don’t get into this level of detail on TV, no?)
Translation: Dishes higher in these specific amino acids taste better to us, balanced and complex, even in low-salt dishes, which is good to know if you are watching sodium. Foods with umami have a meatiness or pleasant earthiness that can feel rich and satisfying. Anchovies, soy sauce, mushrooms, aged cheeses, yeasts and fermented foods all are rich in umami.
This week’s mushroom-miso pasta is a tad indulgent, but tastes far richer, creamier and more sinful than it actually is. Using nutty browned butter underscores the earthy mushroom’s umami flavours. Miso paste, or fermented soybean paste, is the real hero here, though, adding surprising depth to this easy weeknight dish, as well as a buttery, almost creamy taste to the sauce that brings all the flavours together.
Miso paste, available in various strengths in most grocery stores — mild white, medium yellow and stronger red and brown — is a staple in my kitchen, as it brings flavour and richness to dishes without adding fat and calories (but note that it does have salt).
Adding even more umami to this dish is the nutritional yeast. It’s an optional ingredient, but I think well-worth seeking out if you aren’t familiar with it. It adds a wonderful aged-cheese-like flavour that turns this simple mushroom-miso pasta dish into a veritable “umami bomb,” which is a good thing in the food world.
Start to Finish: 20 minutes
8 ounces whole-grain penne pasta
3 tablespoons butter
8 ounces chopped mixed mushrooms (such as portobello, cremini, button, etc.)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon white miso paste
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (or more, to taste)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (optional)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Bring a large saucepan of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium, heat the butter, allowing it to bubble and cook until it turns nutty brown, about 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it, as butter burns easily. Add the mushrooms and garlic, then cook until the mushrooms are tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the wine and stir and scrape the pan to deglaze, then simmer for 1 minute to cook off the alcohol.
Whisk in the miso and chicken stock and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the nutritional yeast and mustard, if using, then stir until the sauce is uniform. Season with pepper, then taste and adjust with salt as needed. Remove the skillet from the heat and toss with the hot pasta.
Food Network star Melissa d’Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook, “Supermarket Healthy.” www.melissadarabian.net