Parmesan by the Hunk

Parmigiano Reggiano

Earlier this year, I received an email from an Italian blogger named Massimo, who announced to me that C&Z had been voted Best Non-Italian Food Blog in the awards he’d been hosting on his website, Peperosso* — I’m sure that having an Italian word in the name of my blog helped. And since Massimo puts his mangoes where his mouth is (Lost, season 2:episode 17), there was a prize for each of the winners, and the prize was a 100€ gift certificate from San Lorenzo, an online store that specializes in Italian goods, and ships them in Europe.

You probably all receive those fake “You’ve won the lottery!” emails by the dozen (please tell me I’m not the only one), but this was a bona fide offer (no credit card information was requested) and I was delighted: it’s nice to discover you’ve won something, it’s even nicer when you didn’t even know you were in the running for it, and when the something you’ve won is edible, well, there’s no price tag on that.

Because I am me, it took me a couple of months to log on to the website and make my order. But when I finally did, it felt like writing a list to a foreign-exchange Santa: armed with my Italian-French dictionary (the website is available in other languages now, but wasn’t at the time), I spent quite a while browsing the virtual aisles and agonizing over what to get. It turns out my dictionary isn’t very food-savvy, but I got by, and learned lots of new words that were promptly forgotten the next day. And when I received the package — a rather huge box that I went to collect from my guardienne‘s office — here’s what was inside:

- A jar of squid ink sauce,
- A can of tuna belly,
- A bag of dried porcini,
- A jar of pink radish paste from Trevise,
- A jar of rabbit liver terrine,
- A box of olive biscotti,
- A jar of plump caramelized figs,
- A 6-pound assortment of pasta (Gigli, Ricciole, Trofie, Linguine, Penne Rigate, and Spaghetti — that’s a lot of pasta, I know),
- A 2-pound bag of Vialone Nano rice (the king of risotti according to Alba),
- A handsome, 2-pound wedge of aged Parmigiano Reggiano.

I have a passion for super-aged cheeses — I was once brought to the verge of tears by a 36-months-old Comté. I adore their tangy sharpness, their concentrated flavors of pepper and roasted nuts, their brittle texture that dissolves on your tongue, and their crunchy salt crystals. And there is something to be said for having a live-in hunk of excellent Parmesan in your fridge: it keeps really well, it tastes even better, and it will positively sublimate anything you grate or shave it over.

Needless to say, my stove has seen a lot of pasta dishes and risotti recently. The size of the Parmesan wedge has already shrunk considerably, and before it’s all gone, I would like to attempt the cooking of pasta using the risotto method, by absorption rather than boiling. According to Pascale, this creates a silky-smooth coating on the pasta, as if you had used a sizable amount of olive oil, only you haven’t. I shall keep you posted on the outcome of this experiment.

* Peperosso.info seems to be unavailable for the moment, but I will add the link when it comes back up.

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  • http://www.himonkey.net monkey

    you tease!!!

    what i am curious about is what will you do with make with the rind of the cheese. i occasionally see it for sale at my local cheeserie sporting a handwritten sign proclaiming that it “makes wonderful soup.” but i had a couple rinds in my kitchen and it never once attempted to cook at all much less make soup. (although i hear from the other dairy products that is could tell an entertaining story or two.)

    i’ll just sit here and wait for the results of your scientific research.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Monkey – Oh, I meant to mention this, thanks for reminding me! I am carefully putting the rind away, bit by bit, in the freezer, to add to a soup: if you search for “soupe broccoli mimolette” on the left hand side, you will find a soup I wrote about, oh dear, more than two years ago, that used cheese rinds.

  • Veluze

    It’s been a long time Im visiting your blog every day (yes, even when there is nothing new) without writing any comments, just to laugh in the shadow and try your recipes.
    Anyway today I had to react. You are talking about cooking pasta in the risotto way and I tried it several years ago: Be careful with this, its a tricky experience, because pasta and risotto react differently and hum, even if i guess you already new that, i wanted to share my experience as an cooking amateur and experiment lover.
    I put wine at the start (the same than with risotto) and it gave it a bitter taste, very special and i wouldnt say it was good. Well i must have done other mistakes (I put too much water aswell, the pasta dont absorb as much as the risotto..) and the result was far from the delicious and smooth taste i was dreaming of…
    Good luck, i hope (actually im pretty sure about that) youll have a great result with your attempt!

  • http://blissinthekitchen.typepad.com/blissinthekitchen/ flo

    I have tried cooking pasta by absorption and it was really delicious. I guess the wine step has to be skipped with pasta and you have to add the stock little by little.
    Clotilde, I am eager to read your recipes as I love the sunny italian cuisine!

  • http://areyouhungryyet.blogspot.com Katie

    I like using Middle Eastern (pearl) couscous in a risotto-style dish. I make it exactly the same way I do regular risotto, and it’s been delicious. The added texture from the couscous is nice, too.

  • http://www.sewdistracted.com Mardel

    I have tried cooking pasta by absorption, but somehow only when I also had nice brocoletti di rabe. Cooked together, the water added slowly, they are divine, silky, rich, with a lovely hint of bitterness.

  • Elizabeth

    What a wonderful prize!!! If you can get your hands on a copy of FLAVORS OF THE RIVIERA by Colman Andrews (editor of the magazine *Saveur*), you will find a recipe for Fidelanza, spaghetti cooked in a rich tomato sauce with pancetta, onion, garlic and basil. The author compares it to a Catalan dish in which thin strands of pasta are cooked as if rice in a tomatoey pilaf. I would hesitate to cook such a bounty of wonderful pasta alla risotto; there is reason behind the preferred, traditional method of plunging dried pasta into a vast quantity of highly salted water and cooking it just to the point where there is no longer a trace of chalky white in the center. Lidia Matticchio Bastianich uses what might be thought of as a happy medium between the traditional and risotto methods, fishing her pasta out of the boiling water while it is still chalky in the center and finishing it off in the sauce for the last few minutes, adding a ladel or two of the pasta water to the wide skillet until all is evaporated or absorbed and the pasta is still al dente. As for the Ligurian trofie, if you wish to follow regional tradition, use them for pesto, cooking the pasta together with small pieces of potato and green beans in a large pot of salted water.

  • http://www.lindamathieu.com Linda Mathieu

    I know French cheese is fabulous but I don’t think you can beat parmigiano, especially if it has those crunchy bits.

  • Patti

    I could live on that cheese – last night we made tiny thin pizzas, with provolone and Parmegiano Reggiano – I’m lucky enough to be able to buy it locally. And I save the rinds in the freezer for throwing into big batches of minestrone. I look forward to hearing about cooking the pasta with that method.

  • http://www.himonkey monkey

    i found it, clotilde!
    although, i must admit that this is quite a blow to me to find out that the rinds go in the soup rather than the rinds actually making the soup. i guess if those rinds had brushed up their culinary skills and helped around the kitchen the story would be different.

  • http://na-zdravi.blogspot.com/ Dianka

    Wow, what a wonderful package- I’m jealous. and that cheese! Just beautiful. Can’t wait to hear about what you made with it!

  • J. Bo

    Actual, real, GENUINE Parmigiano Reggiano is the one thing I ALWAYS have in my fridge. No matter how shagged out I may be at the end of long, rough day, there’s always enough time and energy to make a bowl of spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, and a generous shower of parm.

    (This is frequently consumed while sitting in bed, having been prepared while the cook was in her jammies.)

    All-but-instant comfort and bliss…

  • http://threelayercake.com Three Layer Cake

    I read somewhere that putting the pasta in the sauce after you have boiled it is a technique used by cooks (mothers was the specific reference in the article) whose ‘eaters’ arrive at different times. Why? The article said that if the pasta is placed in the simmering sauce, it will never become overcooked. Never tried it…so I can’t confirm!

    I was really fascinated by a little newsclip in Saveur magazine a few years ago that showed a “Parmesan Bank”: As collateral for business loans, producers of parmesan can take their wheels to the bank who will extend credit (since the cheese takes 3 years to age before it’s mature). So banks in the Parmesan making regions have huge vaults that have nothing in them but floor to ceiling wheels of parmesan.

    neato!

    3LC

    p.s. Don’t underestimate Grana Padano! It’s good, too, and sometimes aged right can be better than a ‘younger’ Parmesan.

  • http://tothesea.co.nr seafoam

    what a nice surprise! and it looks like you got a hefty amount of goods with your prize too which is even better. you know clotilde, if it weren’t for you i might never know what comte was but i tried your simple recipe from a long time ago of pasta with melted comte, wilted spinach, and salt and pepper over it and i have made it many times since. i really like comte too, so subtle! thanks for keeping me informed *-*

  • J. Bo

    3LC, you’re totally right about Grana Padano– it’s a perfectly lovely cheese in its own right, and a great substitution if true P-R isn’t available or is too expensive.

    And long live Comte! Here’s a recipe from the sainted Thomas Keller’s Bouchon for Gnocchi à la Parisienne:

    http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/recipe_views/views/231342

  • http://www.creampuffsinvenice.ca Ivonne

    Enjoy the “hunky” parmesan!

  • http://www.genevestewart.com Geneve

    What a fun list of items you chose – I look forward to seeing them featured in future posts!

  • http://kneadfulthings.typepad.com Cat

    I LOVE parm, I am a vegetarian, but I do eat alot of cheese. I love cooking pastina in the risotto method with a tomato juice/water/evoo liquid instead of regular water and shaving in parm and adding porcini at the end. Your mouth will melt.

  • Massimo

    Hi Clotilde, is the food good-tasting?
    I’ll be online as soon as possible with another blog (for the italian publisher Gambero Rosso).

    Meanwhile, as usual, i’m in love with C&Z.
    Massimo

  • http://www.san-lorenzo.com Antonio Tombolini

    Happy you’d good times with our products, Clotilde: thank you very much! :-)

  • http://www.san-lorenzo.com Antonio Tombolini

    Ops… I was forgetting on more (last) thing, dear C&Z addicted. San-lorenzo.com is giving away, for free, the ingredients for your recipes in change of pics and recipe’s description to be published in our website.
    Ciao!

  • http://kishko.blogspot.com kishko

    a proper chunky hunk of parmigiano is an essential staple in the refrigerator! enjoy it! (but you don’t need me to tell you that!)

  • http://condimentqueen.typepad.com CQ

    The best use of the rind is definitely in vegetable soups and stocks (not just minestrone).
    I would try translating the page through babelfish next time – it can save time trawling through the dictionary (although its a bit less fun).

  • Christopher_G

    What a fantastic award! It’s wonderful when the universe throws some unsuspected reward your way because you’ve done something you love and shared it with others. I’ve been reading your site for a few months and you’ve inspired me to make many different dishes.

    I was also delighted to learn that you are a fan of LOST!

    Thank you!
    Christopher

  • http://www.bakerbites.com Janice

    I have a little jar of parmesan rinds in my frig just waiting to be added to the soup pot. Would love your thoughts/recipe ideas for that!

  • http://exploringsilverspoon.blogspot.com SilverSara

    Oooh! I just discovered cooking pasta by the absorption method just recently in The Silver Spoon – It was soooooo delicious!
    If you want to check out my review, it’s here:
    http://tinyurl.com/jemta

  • Kai Jones

    I didn’t know there was a name for it, but I’ve been making macaroni and cheese by absorption for years. It’s a recipe from Consumer Reports. You cook the elbow noodles in measured water at different temps for different times and at the end it’s just glowingly damp and cooked through, and when you add the cheese and butter it makes its own sauce.

  • SimplySara

    Wow, what a lovely prize. I am interested to find out about your pasta experiment, I never thought of making it that way. I once made it in a rice cooker when my stove was broken and that was a terrible experiment!

    Since you are in France, you probably know all about keeping cheese properly, but since it is such a large chunk of parm, I wanted to tell you that the best way to make it stay “fresh” is to use wax paper or cheese wrap (the kind with paper attached to a waxy sheet) and never plastic wrap and to use a fresh piece every time you rewrap it. It will keep it from drying out or absorbing other flavors from the fridge. It also keeps best in the vegetable crisper of the fridge

  • http://www.alaskacooks.com Jared

    Even more reasons why it should be illegal to purchase parmesan already grated….

  • Gregg

    The absorbtion method of cooking pasta is pretty common in Greek cookery where the pasta is either hilopites or manestra(like rissoni).
    dishes like this:
    http://www.greekboston.com/cuisine/poultry/chickennoodle.shtml
    or this:
    http://www.recipesource.com/ethnic/europe/greek/00/rec0006.html

    both work really well, the manestra works well if you use a spring leg of lamb. (and of course you can substitute parmesan for the cheese).

    Thanks for the great blog, and good luck with the book

  • http://www.genevestewart.com Geneve

    In revisiting this post I was reminded of a great little treat that I was introduced to by an Italian friend. A wedge of parmesan with a slice of juicy ripe pear. This is a simple yet incredibly delicious treat!

  • http://lobstersquad.blogspot.com lobstersquad

    Wow, what good luck. Totally deserved, of course, but still. I do receive a lot of stupid emails, but mine, worryingly, involve a lot of prescription drugs, rather than lottery.

  • http://www.paristriptips.com paristriptips

    Parmesan cheese seems to be a universal LOVE. It makes everything taste better. I love this article, it gives great ideas!

  • Gustad Mody

    i love super aged cheeses too. like old amsterdam is one of my favs.
    i entered a hot dog eating contest last week it’s on my blog if you want to see

  • http://winenchilli.blogspot.com/ fiza

    lucky u!! I’d do anything to win such a selection of food from italy, no less. Enjoy the parmesan! :)

  • http://cumicori.blogspot.com Stefanie

    Err.. what do you do with a jar of squid ink? Just curious.

  • Aminda

    Dear Clotilde,
    I first heard about your site when Robert Siegel (love his voice) mentioned your name on NPR a long time ago. I have loved your blog ever since! I just wanted to mention that cheese rinds can be added to the pot when making stocks for almost any soup (perhaps for a minestrone?) along with the celery and carrots – just throw it in. Also, the squid ink — might you be making squid ink linguini? The long, black noodles make a very dramatic dish. Anyway, hope it is okay, but I have to add a link to your site on my blog – just hopin’ to spread the gospel of Clotilde!
    Thanks again for all your inspiring tales,
    Aminda

  • http://www.quicklittlesplinter.com Rach

    I’m really intrigued by this idea of cooking pasta by the risotto method. I have enough orecchiete left over from my housemate’s birthday dinner to feed one procrastinating student, so I’m thinking of trying it with the leek I have kicking around my fridge, a little, sweet zucchini sliced paper thin, a good handful of toasted pine nuts and, of course, the parmesan I always have. In fact, I think I’ll have that for lunch this Tuesday (gotta plan these things). I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a disaster!

    Well done with the free foods, Clothilde.

  • http://www.anita-charms.com Italian girl

    Yammyyyy
    I wished I won lats of tasty food. I think it’s even better then winning money cause you enjoy and don’t have to think what to spend them on.

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