…And Add Some Freshly Grated Parmesan…

23rd August 2008

Some unbelievably nasty cheeses have called themselves ‘Parmesan’ in the past, but a ruling by the European Court of Justice earlier this year has put a stop to that.

The ECJ declared that only cheeses bearing the protected denomination of origin (PDO) ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano’ can be sold under the denomination ‘Parmesan’. It’s a clear victory for the producers of genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano (in Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna) – but also, of course, for us as consumers looking for authenticity and provenance, and all the distinctive characteristics of a properly made, properly matured Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The maturing process, unique in this type of cheese, allows for a range of cheeses aged up to 30 months – and the older, the better, naturally. Still made by traditional methods, and produced in the form of a wheel, it’s tested for quality at various stages of the process – an inspector taps each cheese with a little metal hammer – and is identifiable from special markings on the rind.

It’s perfect for risotto, and great with pasta – but there are masses of other tasty recipes that feature this king of cheeses. Or you could just eat it on its own… it has a strong and distinctive flavour, and those little crystals give it added texture. Perfetto!


Saffron Poached Pears with Parmigiano Reggiano

This poached pear dessert is so simple to make, yet it tastes utterly divine. It’s not too sweet and the filling complements the fruit perfectly.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

150g Parmigiano Reggiano • 150g ricotta cheese • 6 pears (not too ripe), peeled, halved and cored • 600ml medium white wine • 50g caster sugar • strip of lemon zest • generous pinch of saffron • 2 star anise

Method:

Grate the Parmigiano Reggiano very finely. Mix together the Parmigiano Reggiano and ricotta cheese thoroughly. Cover and set to one side until ready to serve. Put the pears, wine and sugar into a saucepan with the lemon zest, saffron and star anise. Heat and simmer very gently for about 20 minutes, until pears are tender. Cool them until barely warm. Share out the pears, with some of the flavoured syrup, between four serving bowls. Spoon the cheese mixture onto them and serve

Tip:

The pears can be made up to three days in advance, then covered and chilled until required. Warm them slightly before serving.


Spinach & Parmigiano Reggiano Muffins

These light savoury muffins are perfect for breakfast or brunch (or just as a snack when you’re feeling peckish…).

Makes 8

Ingredients:

250g plain flour • 1/2 tsp salt • 1 tbsp baking powder • 1 tsp caster sugar • 75g Parmigiano Reggiano • 100g spinach, cooked, cooled and chopped • 1 egg • 240ml milk • 90ml vegetable oil

Method:

Grate the Parmigiano Reggiano finely, and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 190°C / fan oven 170°C / Gas Mark 5. Put eight paper muffin cases into a muffin pan, or line them with squares of greaseproof paper. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar, about two-thirds of the Parmigiano Reggiano and the spinach. In a large jug, beat together the egg, milk and vegetable oil. Pour the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients. Using a metal spoon, stir until just combined. You must not beat this mixture or stir it too much. It should be quite lumpy, but there should be no traces of dry flour. Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases and sprinkle the remaining Parmigiano Reggiano on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. Serve whilst warm.

Tip:

Press out the excess water from the cooked spinach with your hands or use the back of a spoon.


Parmigiano Reggiano & Butternut Squash Soup

This superb soup has a fabulous taste, enhanced by adding the rind from the cheese as it cooks, to extract every bit of flavour.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

150g Parmigiano Reggiano, with rind • 25g butter • 1 large onion, finely chopped • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped into chunks • 900ml hot vegetable stock • 150ml milk • salt & freshly ground black pepper, to season • 4-6 slices French bread • fresh parsley or thyme, chopped, to garnish

Method:

Reserve the rind from the Parmigiano Reggiano and cut it into chunks, then finely grate the cheese. Melt butter in a large saucepan, and gently fry onion for about three minutes, until softened, but not browned. Add the butternut squash, vegetable stock and Parmigiano Reggiano rind. Heat the mixture until it’s just simmering, then turn the heat to low and cook gently for about 20 minutes, partially covered, until the vegetables are soft and tender.

Remove the rind, then transfer the soup to a blender or food processor and add most of the grated cheese, reserving about 25g for garnishing. Blend the soup for 15-20 seconds, until completely smooth. Return it to the saucepan and add the milk. Stir thoroughly and reheat until piping hot. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Meanwhile, toast the slices of French bread, sprinkle the remaining Parmigiano Reggiano on top and grill until melted. Ladle soup into warmed bowls, then top each portion with one piece of French toast. Sprinkle with fresh parsley or thyme and a little extra ground black pepper, then serve.

Tip:

To store the soup, cool it quickly, then refrigerate for up to three days, or freeze for up to three months.

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