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Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (Recipe: Broccoli and cauliflower sformatino) {vegetarian}

Broccoli cauliflower sformatino 

When my friend Ben, who goes to the local high school, asked me to give him the test for his Boy Scout cooking merit badge, I figured it would be easy.

After all, Ben had been taking cooking classes with me since he was 12 years old, so I knew that he knew how to cook cool stuff like quesadillas and meatloaf and deviled eggs and vegetable sushi.

What I didn't expect is that I'd have to question him about botulism and E. coli, kitchen safety and serving sizes, or that as part of the test he would have to plan meals for six days of wilderness camping, with no refrigeration.

Six days without ice cream or fresh milk for morning coffee? I could handle that. But six days without Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese? Maybe not.


Parmigiano-Reggiano (known as "parm" in our house) finds its way into everything from egg dishes to pasta, to tapas, to salads. Though I didn't grow up in a parm household, I can't imagine cooking without it now. The rinds go into almost every vegetable soup I make, too.

When I wrote about parm a few years ago, I shared some advice about how to buy:

  • Make sure the rind is stamped Parmigiano-Reggiano, in small dots like the ones in the photo. Anything else is not authentic parm.
  • Don't buy cheese without the rind, unless you see the rind being cut off.
  • Before you bring home a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano, find out its birthday. Each wheel is stamped with the month and year the cheese was made.
  • Timing is everything; each season creates cheese with different qualities. Summer cheese is more golden, because the cows are eating fresh grass, and it's said to be best for making pesto because it is the most sharp in flavor; spring cheese is drier because the milk at that time of year has less butterfat, and the cheese is harder to cut. Autumn cheese, the most balanced in flavor with a higher butterfat content, is the best for eating as is. Ask for cheese that's been aged through at least two summers. In summer, the cheese sweats, expelling excess moisture and concentrating the flavor.

What I didn't tell you is why you should buy real parm (there is no such thing as American Parmigiano-Reggiano, though there is parmesan cheese made in the US):

  • It's an artisanal product, made with care and pride, in a limited geographic region of Italy.
  • Sixteen liters of organic milk go into every kilo (2.2 pounds) of cheese. The average wheel weighs 80 kilos.
  • Each wheel is turned and cleaned at least once a week, and is tested at 12 months; those that don't make the grade do not get stamped with the seal of the Consorzio. Wheels that pass the test typically will age a total of 24 to 36 months.
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano tastes best. Nothing more to say.

By the way, Ben passed his test with flying colors, and earned his cooking merit badge. I couldn't be more proud.


Broccoli and cauliflower sformatino

Some of my long-time readers are probably shocked to find a cauliflower recipe on The Perfect Pantry! Not the first, but I admit that they are few and far between. Cauliflower is to me as beets are to President Obama -- not a favorite food -- but this recipe was so cheese-y and delicious that I couldn't resist a second, and third, bite. Very slightly adapted from Faith Heller Willinger's Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Serves 6-8.


3/4 lb head of cauliflower, broken into bite-size florets
3/4 lb broccoli, cut into bite-size florets, stems peeled if necessary
3 Tbsp coarse sea salt
1 cup non-fat or 1% milk
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


In a stock pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add 3 Tbsp coarse sea salt, and the cauliflower, and cook, uncovered, 10-12 minutes, until tender. Remove the cauliflower from the pot, place in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, then drain and place in a large mixing bowl.

Add the broccoli to the same pot and cook, uncovered, for 10-12 minutes, until just tender. Remove broccoli from the pot, place in the ice water, then drain and combine with cauliflower in a large bowl. Reserve 1 cup of the vegetable cooking water.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Heat the milk and vegetable-cooking water in a small pot. In another small pot, add the olive oil and flour, and stir over low heat for a few minutes (to make a roux), but don't let the mixture color. Add the hot milk and stir energetically with a whisk until smooth and creamy. Remove from heat, stir in the cheese, and season with salt and pepper.

Combine the cheese sauce with the broccoli and cauliflower, and transfer to a baking dish (I used a 9x13 ceramic baker), smoothing to a 2-inch layer. Bake 20-25 minutes, until bubbling. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Egg noodle, cheese and cauliflower gratin
Frittata with broccoli and garden herbs
Sicilian style spaghetti
French onion soup
Bleu cheese souffle
Turkey-escarole soup

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Hmm... a new part of my job is regular travel to visit the student exchange partner institutions for my University department.

One of which is the conservatory of music in Parma: I'm planning on stretching that one out to 3-4 days. And I'm making sure I can bring back cheese and ham.... a big old empty suitcase, I think.

I'm one of those weird people who actually likes cauliflower. I think it really depends what you grew up with and what vegetables were massacred by our mothers, hehe. Personally I can't do brussel sprouts

I didn't know all of that about parm...especially the seasons. Really interesting!

One of my best experiences ever was a visit to a parm production site just outside of Bologna. The owner was the nicest man you would ever meet. He took us through the process from coagulation to aging, and we went into a room where wheels of parm were stacked from the floor to the ceiling. Then we sampled, right from one of the wheels - nutty, salty, tart -- it was heavenly! (Congratulations to Ben!)

Picked up some info on parm-reg I didn't know :) Thanks!

I love cauliflower and broccoli anyways (and try every year to grow in my garden) but a heavy dose of parm. reggiano at the end?? What's not to LOVE!

Great information! Who can resist cheesy veggies? My stomach is growling now, LOL!

How long does it take the cheese rinds to melt into the veg soup? Or do they just flavor it and stay solid?

Oh how I wish my dear picky husband liked parm. I put a mix of shredded cheese on our salad one night that had parm in it and he tasted it and couldn't finish his salad. Yep, his affliction for it is THAT bad. I personally enjoy it so I buy it for myself occasionally.

Are there any substitutes I might be able to try on him that you could suggest?

Oh my word this looks like melty heaven...wow, I can't stop ogling the pictures!

The seasonal stuff was interesting Lydia, thanks for the lesson. I just started using PR back in December and I can never go back to anything I used before. Its flavor really makes a difference.

And hello broccoli and cauliflower! Come to mama.

Didn't have any cauliflower on hand -used whole grain rotini and broccoli instead. Delish Dish!

I realllly like your blog!

OMG! I just had brocolli and cauliflower. I love 'em both. If I'd only seen your recipe earlier! I'll try it next time.


What a fun experience, passing on the cooking knowledge like that. I'm much more of a cauliflower fan than you are, so this sounds heavenly to me. If you liked it, I'm guessing I'd love it!

Ok seriously.... boy scouts and cooking lessons? Does it get cuter?

I have a few heads of broccoli that were heading on their way to a salad, but I sense a detour is in order...

Oh I love cauliflower...glad you put a recipe up even though it is not your favorite, as it is one of mine. And throw some cheese on it and it's good stuff.

ok, really 3/4's a head? and i dont understand why you cant boil the veggies all together?

otherwise sounds yummy.. I would definety use the whole head tho ;)

oops 3/4 a pound! should have read more carefully

Oh yummy! Look at all that cheesy goodness.
I didn't know about the different parms made in different seasons, but I guess that makes sense.
I have a great idea.. let's you and I run away to Italy and make cheese. It will be fun!

Cauliflower and cheese love each other so much. Fascinating to hear about the Boy Scouts cooking test. I can't imagine planning an entire week of food without refrigeration, and probably with bears! What a feat for a young man.

Paul, there are real advantages to the EU, one of which is the more free movement of food across borders. I hope you have a wonderful time in Parma -- with the work, and the food shopping.

Bron, I absolutely blame my mother for my dislike of cauliflower (and broccoli, too, though I've gotten over that). Her method of cooking vegetables was to boil them, and the aroma of boiling cauliflower filled the house -- and really did me in. But I'm making an effort to find a cauliflower dish that I can learn to like. This one was a first step, so watch for more in the future.

Bridget, Giff, Janel: I thought it was fascinating about the different seasons of cheese. Wouldn't it be great to organize a taste test?

TW, what a wonderful experience you had! I can imagine the taste, but also the aroma when he cut into the wheel.

Julia, Noble Pig: parm is a bit like ketchup -- it makes everything taste better.

Mae, the cheese rinds never disintegrate, but any cheese left attached to them will melt into the soup. Then, when the soup is cooked, you remove the rind; if your soup is to be pureed, remove the rind before then. When I make vegetable soup, I leave the rind in the extra soup that gets stored in the fridge.

April, how about asiago? It's very similar, and maybe he'll like it. What a shame, not liking parm.

Melissa, I'm so glad you can taste the difference between real parm and whatever you were using before. There are some good American cheeses and parm-like cheeses, but the real Parmigiano-Reggiano is, to my thinking, the best of all, and it's worth seeking it out at the market. Even my local supermarket in the middle of nowhere carries real parm now.

Penelope, that sounds great! And for me, subbing pasta for cauliflower would be perfect.

Rebekka, thanks.

Paz, next time, try this. You know if I had three bites of cauliflower, it had to be pretty good.

Kalyn, don't tell anyone, but I'm actually thinking about making this again....

EB, I used to have cooking classes for middle-school kids and their parents. There's a wonderful curiosity about cooking at that age, 12-14. Ben would alternate, bringing his mom to one class, and his dad to the next.

Cate, sometimes detours are as much fun, or more fun, than the original plan. Enjoy!

Peabody, I know you all will be shocked, but I'm actually going to try another cauliflower recipe. Not soon, but eventually. And if President Obama learns to love beets, I will learn to love cauliflower.

Amy, both cauliflower and broccoli are strong flavors, and the broccoli is a strong color. If you boil the veggies together, the flavors will get muddled, and the cauliflower dingy. That's also why you cook the cauliflower first.

Natashya, I'm buying my plane ticket! What would be more fun than making cheese in Italy?!

Ann, I didn't even consider the bears! To be honest, the Boy Scout test seemed a bit out of touch with kids of today. Made me wonder when this particular merit badge test was written.

I love broccoli and cauliflower and eat them all of the time. This preparation looks amazing!

Yes, I've used that recipe from her book and love it.
Congrats to Ben! That's really fun.

I actually love raw cauliflower - it's the cooking that messes it up for me. But your cheesy recipe might make me change my mind.

Great photo. I love the idea of both the broccoli and cauliflower together. I make something very similar, using the vegetables individually, and I top the mixture with buttery garlic bread crumbs with more Parmesan before finishing off in the oven. Next time I make it I'll use both vegetables. Thanks for the idea.

Carrie, I don't eat them all the time, but I'm trying to eat them more often.

Mykitchen, I'm just in love with this cookbook. Took me a while to get into it, but I've found so many great, simple, delicious recipes.

Michelle, I can't eat any of the brassicas raw -- too gassy for me. But I can eat almost anything with melted cheese!

Ann, thanks. The combination of the two veggies was delicious, and having the cheese mixed in guaranteed that every bite was creamy and delicious.

Love parm, use it often, but still didn't know all the facts as you listed here. Being a long-time reader of The Perfect Pantry, I feel like I could play a round of culinary Trivial Pursuit...and win!

Sandie, it's really fun for me to learn more about the ingredients in my pantry, and to share those tidbits with you. Sometimes the things I learn are more useful than others -- seasons of cheese, for instance -- and sometimes pure fun. Either way, thanks for reading!

I would like to make a batch this size and freeze it--how well would the roux-y cheese sauce hold up to freezing do you think?

Yum, that gooey close-up shot captured the dish well...may I dive in?

It's like mac and cheese but only better for you. Mmmm... good.

This recipe sounds delicious. I love cauliflower, especially roasted until it is slightly caramelized on the bottom. Yum! I can't imagine a better combination than you have created here! And well done to your friend for passing his badge. His roomies in college will love living with someone who can cook!


A couple comments.

First, this sounds like the perfect vegetable sauce base recipe. Instead of broccoli and cauliflower, what would you think of using asparagus? I have never tried asparagus with PR cheese. Would this be a good combination?

Second, I am a fan of steaming vegetables. Rather than boil the cauliflower and then the broccoli, if you steam them both together you should not get the muddy colors/tastes. At least in my simple life it works fine. Adjust the steaming water so that you have a cup remaining and it should work fine. When I try this I will let you know how well it works.

Last comment - I fully understand your desire for true PR cheese. I lived in Italy for 4 months (Colognia-Veneta, approx. 100km west of Venice) a couple years ago. It has completely ruined Italian food here in the US. It just does not taste good. I remember picking up for lunch a chunk of fresh Asigao cheese, a big slice of prosciutto or other ham and fresh bread. All for about $2-3. Or, drop by the little Trattoria next door for Insalata pomodorro with olive oil, balsamic vinegar (real!!) and PR cheese. As close to heaven as I will ever be.

Lydia, thanks!!

Frog Princess, I'm just not sure about freezing this. I worry that the vegetables will turn to mush, even if the cheese sauce is fine.

Peter, please do!

Susan, if I ate the cauliflower, you know it has to be good.

Michelle, you're so right. I didn't know how to cook when I was in college, but my roomie was from a large Italian family and she taught about then exotic-to-me pasta!

Wreck, first about asparagus. it would certainly work. But asparagus tastes best (to me) if it's just barely cooked, so cut the cooking time way down. Steaming veggies would work fine in this. Do let us know. And about living in Italy? I'm totally envious. After many visits to Venice and the region surrounding, I have to agree -- as close to heave as I will ever be.

I think I would love to dive into this dish and gorge myself, it looks so easy and delicious!

I was just looking for a cauliflower recipe & found this - sounds GREAT!

As well ... thanks for the Shout Out here!!!


Hi Lydia
When boiling the Broccoli and Cauliflower do I cover or uncover the stock pot.

Jackie, uncovered (and I've now updated the recipe to say that).

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