Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Simple and Irreplaceable Taste of Sunshine

My mother recently came home from a trip around Italy, and like any other vacation-returnee, she brought back a typical assortment of giftable memorabilia. There were some tea towels, aprons and t-shirts but the real treasures were epicurean in nature. Among these priceless jewels were some sundried tomatoes. Dried with some salt to within an inch of their lives, these once voluptuous scarlet pomodoro were ripe and juicy have taken on a whole new persona as intensely dark and rich, twisted, tightly clenched nuggets of deep burgundy fruit that are smoky and earthy but still thrust through with a sharp tang.

As per directions, I soaked a handful in warm water for a few hours. The smell was intoxicating. Like a concentrated tomato consommé brewing, the tomatoes steeped in the water and created a thick burnt sienna tea from which wafted wondrous whiffs of wholesome tomato essence. I sliced some garlic, tossed it with some liberal lashings of olive oil, some fresh tomato and the now softened and sliced dried tomatoes and then let it simmer while I cooked my penne rigate to a couple minutes short of the package directions. Then leaving some of the pasta water in the pan, I ladled on some of the sauce and allowed the pasta to finish cooking and really soak up all of those delicious flavours. I turned off the heat and then stirred in a generous handful of freshly grated grana padano. I adore this cheese. The creaminess helps to balance out the sharp acidity of the dried tomato but it still has that depth of flavour akin to a good parmigiano reggiano. The mix of the fresh and the dried tomatoes provided a playful dynamic dining experience as your senses kept being pulled in different directions: sweet, sour, salty, fresh, smoky, soft, chewy. It was a delight to eat and the pure simplicity of the dish really kept things light. The taste of the sundried tomatoes resonated throughout every morsel but never seemed overwhelming to your taste buds as much of that flavour is aromatic. There really is something magnificently magical and curiously comforting about a big bowl of homecooked pasta :)

Sunday, 7 October 2012

I Can Be Crabby But It Keeps Things Captivating

Much like Tom Yam Gung, Som Tam is likely one of the most lionized lip-smacking local delicacies of Thailand. It is a spicy, sweet and sour salad of shredded green papaya pounded in a mortar with fresh chilies, tomatoes, long beans, fish sauce and palm sugar. As with many other national iconic digestibles everyone seems to have their recipe, but there are some standard variations from the tourist-friendly Som Tum Thai.

If you have noticed the crawly critter in the corner, DON'T PANIC. Allow me to introduce the often overlooked Som Tum Poo (no, not that, poo as in “bpuu” meaning crab in Thai), procured posthaste from the purveyor of portable “papaya pok-pok” who parks at a spot preceding the precincts of my domicile. I also added a portion of Khanom Jeen, a soft white fermented rice noodle often eaten with spicy sauces and raw vegetables (which transforms the salad into Tum Sua). The simple addition of the small crustacean is akin to slipping a sliver of white truffle into an unembellished salad. The result? Sensational alchemy. The fresh piquant flavours of the tangy green papaya, lime juice, hot red chillies sweet tomatoes and palm sugar and the refreshing crunch of juicy long beans can start to fight against each other as the shout for space to scintillate the same senses, so the earthy savoriness of the seafood umami emitted by the tiny crab is a welcome deep undercurrent that dramatically expands the depth of flavour of the dish as a whole. Some may be squeamish at the sight of spindly legs and shiny black shells peeking through your fresh clean veggies but I assure you it is not as extremely exotic as you may think. As a scrumptious shropshire blue is to a plastic wrapped sliced of processed cheese, or a fragrant black truffle is to a can of brine soaked button mushrooms, Tum Poo has a prodigious flavour profile to the straightforward Tum Thai (sans crab) even though both can be as equally satisfying in the right place and at the right time. Besides, isn't it fun to just run around in the streets shouting to strangers that you have crabs?