In the house where I grew up, we ate spaghetti sauce made from a packet, topped with "parmesan cheese" shaken from a green cardboard cylinder.
I'm not saying it wasn't good -- especially with my mother's giant meatballs, which she made from actual beef -- just that I didn't grow up with the real thing.
My first taste of authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese came much later in life, and now, even when I make my family's favorite Buddy Lasagne with sauce from a jar, I top it with real parm. (Yes, I call it parm. We are on intimate terms, this cheese and I.)
Recognizable by the distinctive dotted pattern of words on the rind, Parmigiano-Reggiano tastes a bit nutty, salty, and gritty, without any bitterness or aftertaste. Shards of real parm will melt on the back of your tongue.
And the best part is that, after the cheese is gone, the rinds have a second life as the magic ingredient that adds richness and character to the flavor of vegetable and bean soups.
What is Parmigiano-Reggiano?
A cow's milk cheese, aged for one to two years, produced in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. Protected by both trademark and D.O.P. designation, Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard cheese, perfect for grating, shaving, or eating in chunks cleaved off the wheel.
How/where to store?
Wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving. Once a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano is cut open, the cheese doesn't have a very long shelf life; it will last for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator. Save the rinds for soup, in a plastic bag in the fridge or freezer.
More facts about Parmigiano-Reggiano, and ingredient photos, on The Perfect Pantry:
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (Recipe: risotto with grapefruit)
Sausage, egg and asparagus pizza
The first time I made this, on regular pizza dough, it was filling. Too filling. On my favorite oat-bran pita breads, these pizzas are lighter, with a crispy crust, perfect for breakfast or a quick weeknight supper. Substitute any type of sausage, spicy or mild. Make one pizza per person.
For a single serving:
1 link of hot Italian turkey sausage
1 8-inch pita oat-bran or whole wheat pita bread
2-3 Tbsp shredded mozzarella cheese
2 spears asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-inch lengths
A pinch of dried thyme leaf or fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Fresh ground black pepper
1 large egg
Preheat oven to 425°F.
On the stove top, heat a small nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Squeeze the sausage meat out of the casing into the frying pan (discard the casing). Cook, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon, until the meat is lightly browned all over. Remove from the pan.
Set the pita bread on a baking sheet. Sprinkle on the mozzarella cheese, then the sausage, asparagus and thyme. Top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, then a bit of black pepper.
Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven (do not turn the oven off).
Without breaking the yolk, carefully crack the egg into a small bowl. Then slide the egg onto the center of the pizza. Return the pizza to the oven and cook for 10 minutes, or until the egg white is just set and the yolk is still runny. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with more pepper, and serve hot.
Other recipes that use Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese:
Air popped popcorn with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, from Christine Cooks
Strawberry rhubarb parmesan crisp, from No Recipes
Parmigiano Reggiano stuffed onions wrapped in prosciutto de Parma, from Ms. Adventures in Italy
Fresh goat cheese ravioli, from East Village Kitchen
Parmesan fricos, from Yumsugar
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