I started off just trying a little of the paste straight up. Amazingly, I could clearly distinguish many of the main components without even looking at the ingredient list - tangy tomato paste, fishiness from the anchovies, a lactic creaminess from the parmesan, and a pungent kick of garlic. It tastes strong, but nicely balanced.
Then I tried it in three different preparations: scrambled eggs, a bean stew, and in a grilled cheese sandwich. My favorite was actually the grilled cheese sandwich! I just rubbed a little of the paste onto the bread before I made the grilled cheese, and it added a really nice gourmet kick to an otherwise plain grilled cheese. In the stew, the paste melted into the background (which is what good umami flavors should do in a stew, really). The paste received "meh?" from me in the eggs. It was nice but not something I'd do every day.
In the end, I feel a little divided about this paste. For most dishes, I don't think it really accomplishes more savory impact than a scoop of tomato paste and a handful of parmesan cheese can do. But I really enjoyed it in preparations where the flavor of the paste itself was the star ingredient. Besides grilled cheese, this paste would be great as a bruschetta topping, stirred into mayo, dabbed on a sandwich or hamburger, or whisked into a vinaigrette.
I also think this would be a great all-purpose ingredient for a beginning cook. I could see giving this as a gift with the instruction "Just add a tablespoon to everything! Trust me!"
I wish this paste were vegetarian or came in an anchovy-free variety. It can be challenging to get that true umami depth in many vegetarian dishes (again, especially if you're new to cooking), and a paste like this would be a real help.
Has anyone else tried this paste? What do you think about it?
• Find It! Laura Santtini's Taste No. 5 Umami Paste, $18.50 for a pack of 4 from Amazon.
(Image: Emma Christensen)