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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Parmigiano-Reggiano and Roast Garlic Soup

Excellent Ingredient of the Week
Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard, granular cheese, cooked but not pressed, named after the producing areas near Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Bologna, Italy. Under Italian law, only cheese produced in these provinces may be labelled "Parmigiano-Reggiano", Made from skim cow's milk, it is straw-colored and has rich flavor.

The process for making Parmesan cheese is lengthy. Firstly, Parmesan cheese is made with a special blend of two different types of cow’s milk. The full cream milk that is taken from the cows in the morning is mixed with the skimmed milk taken from the same cows on the previous evening. Those cows whose milk is used to produce Parmesan cheese are fed only on grass and hay. This gives the milk with which Parmesan cheese is made a unique consistency that shows in the texture of the cheese later on. The milk is then heated and stirred in huge copper vats which are used specifically because they heat up and cool down so quickly. The curd is then lumped into cheese cloths and made into the shape of a wheel using a metal brace. The wheels are then aged from 12-16 months to 2 years.

So what do you do with it besides shaving it onto pasta? Parmesan is great with asparagus, great in mac and cheese, delicious on salad, Ceasar salad of course. Mixed into mashed or baked potatoes. You can even make very cool little crackers with it.

Parmesan crackers

Take a sheet pan and line it with a Silpat or parchment and spray it with non-stick spray. Put a small metal ring on the sheet pan and fill it lightly with shredded parm cheese. Tap it in lightly and fill the sheet pan. Bake for 7 minutes till the cheese melts and bubbles. When it cools they will release from the sheet pan. Serve with soup or salad.

Here is a great recipe for garlic soup finished with Parmesan cheese.

Roasted Garlic Soup with Parmesan Cheese

26 garlic cloves (unpeeled)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
2 1/4 cups sliced onions
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
18 garlic cloves, peeled
3 1/2 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
4 lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place 26 garlic cloves in small glass baking dish. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake until garlic is golden brown and tender, about 45 minutes. Cool. Squeeze garlic between fingertips to release cloves. Transfer cloves to small bowl.

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and thyme and cook until onions are translucent, about 6 minutes. Add roasted garlic and 18 raw garlic cloves and cook 3 minutes. Add chicken stock; cover and simmer until garlic is very tender, about 20 minutes. Working in batches, purée soup in blender until smooth. Return soup to saucepan; add cream and bring to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.
(Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium heat, stirring occasionally.)
Divide grated cheese among 4 bowls and ladle soup over. Squeeze juice of 1 lemon wedge into each bowl and serve.