Perfect cheese for hundreds of years |

Perfect cheese for hundreds of years

Special to the Daily

The Pinura Padana generously provides Italians with the bulk of their fruits, vegetables, grains and meats. Within this piana (plain) lies the Emilia Romagna region, home to some of the world’s finest gourmet specialty foods. In a region small enough to drive around in a morning’s excursion, comes the world’s supply of Prosciutto di Parma, true balsamic vinegar, and most famous of all; Parmigiano-Reggiano!Few will dispute that Parmigiano-Reggiano is the king of cheeses – and has been so for eight centuries. Perfected somewhere between the years 1200 and 1300 AD, Parmigiano-Reggiano has remained virtually unchanged to this day.The Italians are fanatical about producing amazing foods and preserving their local history, and Parmigiano-Reggiano is an excellent example. Today it is made in the same way, in the same small towns, with the ultra-rich milk of the same cattle, eating the same grasses in the same months, and even with the same expert ritual gestures.All parmesan is not Parmigiano-Reggiano – not by a long shot. Countless producers churn out millions of tons of imitations, but none of these imposters could ever come close to the excellence that is true Parmigiano-Reggiano. And most certainly not some shelf-stable sprinkle from a green can.When choosing Parmigiano, think wedges; that way you can easily spot imitations. Besides, cheese that is grated fresh offers much more flavor and aroma.Each wheel’s rind is marked with the words ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano’ as well as the Consorzio’s mark and a date. The finest cheeses produced are aged a full 24 months and designated as Parmigiano-Reggiano. Cheeses not suitable for long aging, but good enough to be called Parmigiano-Reggiano, are known as Parmigiano-Reggiano Prima Stagionatura (first stage). To identify Prima Stagionatura look again at the rind. This less aged cheese is incised with closely spaced horizontal grooves giving the rind a distinctly banded appearance.Here are some great recipes in which Parmigiano-Reggiano plays a starring role – cook one up for someone you love this week. – Chef Mick Rosacci, Tony’s Meats & Specialty Foods

Eggplant Parmesan(Parmigiana di Melanzane)2 pounds (about 2 medium-sized) eggplant Salt 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 cup fresh bread crumbs, seasoned with 1/4 chopped fresh basil leaves and 1/4 cup pecorino 2 cups homemade or high-quality bottled tomato sauce1 pound FRESH mozzarella balls, thinly sliced 12 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash and towel dry the eggplant. Slice the eggplant horizontally about 1/4-inch thick. Place the slices in a large colander, sprinkle with salt and set aside to rest about 30 minutes. Drain, rinse and dry on towels. In a saute pan, heat the olive oil until just smoking. Press the drained eggplant pieces into the seasoned bread crumb mixture and saute until light golden brown on both sides. Repeat with all of the pieces. On a cookie sheet lay out the 4 largest pieces of eggplant. Place 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce over each piece and place a thin slice of mozzarella on top of each. Sprinkle with Parmigiano and top each with the next smallest piece of eggplant, then sauce then mozzarella. Repeat the layering process until all the ingredients have been used, finishing again with the Parmigiano. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the top of each little stack is golden brown and bubbly, about 15 minutes. Four servings. – Adapted from Mario BataliBow Tie Pasta in Parmigiano-Reggiano Butter 1 pound dried bow tie pasta 6 quarts water 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened 11/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese Salt and freshly ground pepper, to tasteIn a large pot, bring salted water to a rolling boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. In a large skillet melt butter. Do not brown. Add drained pasta and cheese and toss until coated. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. Four servings. – Acqua Restaurant

Penne with Tomatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano1/2 pound fresh, ripe tomatoes1 pound penne (or other pasta)1/3 cup olive oil1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-ReggianosaltCut the tomatoes lengthwise, remove the seeds and dice.Cook the pasta “al dente.” Drain and transfer to a serving bowl, pour the oil, the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the tomatoes over the pasta, toss thoroughly and correct for salt. Serves 4-6.Veal Scaloppini with Ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano8 veal cutlets1/4 pound boiled ham, cut into 4 slices1/4 pound Parmigiano-Reggiano, cut into slivers 2 tablespoons butterTake four cutlets, cover each with a slice of ham and with slivers of cheese, then top each one with another cutlet. Heat the butter in a skillet over medium high heat and brown the meat on both sides for about a minute each side. Transfer to a warm serving platter and serve immediately. Serves 4-6.Roasted Breaded Mussels

(Cozze al Forno)11/2 pounds green mussels on the half shell2 tablespoons thinly sliced garlic 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley 1/2 teaspoon dried crumbled oregano 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 1/4 cup freshly grated breadcrumbs 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oilPreheat the oven to 425 degrees. Arrange the green mussel half shells on a baking sheet; open shell facing up. In a small bowl, combine the garlic, parsley, oregano, grated cheese and breadcrumbs, and then sprinkle the mixture over the mussels in a thin layer. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake the mussels for about 10 minutes or until the tops are brown and crisp. Serve piping hot or at room temperature. Do not reheat. – Adapted from Mario BataliBiscotti alla Parmigiana1 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup softened unsalted butter 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves Pinch sea saltIn a bowl of a food processor add flour, butter, Parmesan cheese, rosemary and salt. Pulse until crumbly, but sticks together when pressed with fingers. Pour onto a floured pastry board and gather into a ball. Cover it with plastic wrap and allow dough to rest in refrigerator for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove dough from the refrigerator and allow it to warm slightly, about 10 minutes. Place rested dough on a lightly floured pastry board and roll out to 1/2-inch thickness. Line a baking sheet with a silpat mat or parchment paper. Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out circles and place them on the baking sheet, 1-inch apart. Gather dough scraps into a ball. Roll out leftover dough and cut additional circles. Continue until all the dough is used. If the dough becomes too soft and the butter starts to melt, place it back into the refrigerator to firm up again. Place in oven and bake 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 20-30 savory cookies. – Giada De LaurentiisRoasted Pears with Honey and Parmigiano-Reggiano 4 large pears, not quite ripe 1 cup Chianti1 cup sugar 1 cup high quality honey Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, in 1 piecePreheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim the bottom of the pears so that they stand up on their own. In a small roasting pan, just large enough to hold the pears, place the pears upright. Pour the wine and sugar into the pan surrounding the base of the pears. Place in the oven and cook until soft, about 30 minutes. Remove and allow to cool. Strain the liquid in the bottom of the pan and reserve. To serve, place each pear in the center of a plate. Drizzle with honey and spoon the red wine sauce over. Using a peeler, shave shards of Parmigiano over each. Four servings. – Adapted from Mario Batali

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