Even though I’ve recently made radical changes to my eating habits by going diary and grain free, I do engage in the occasional treat and it’s usually cheese. I don’t have a big sweet tooth, so my cheats tend to be of the savory variety. When I do eat dessert, I prefer it to be more tangy than sweet. I’ve grown quite attached to the new fancy ice cream joint that just opened near our house in Philadelphia, which makes an amazing coconut-milk-based flavor that incorporates sriracha. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve burned your tongue off with it.
Parmigiano Reggiano has become one of my favorite ways to add a savory bite to food, but admittedly, my love for it started with the standard grocery store version that was known as “parmesan.” Other kids put ketchup on everything, I liked to cover food with parmesan. Eggs, pasta, broccoli, salad – they all got “parmesan’d” if I was at the table.
Another way the cheese of all cheeses showed up in my regular diet as a kid was through the infamous pseudo-italian dish of breaded chicken smothered in cheese and sauce known as Chicken Parmesan. On the rare occasions that we ate out as a family, we usually visited a local Italian joint called Marco Polo, where my dad would never even crack the menu because he knew he’d be ordering his usual. When my mother passed away, my brother and I were both still living nearby, so we started have a family dinner every week at Marco Polo. It got to a point where our regular waitress would only bother to give menus to us kids, and a dish of chicken parmesan would automatically appear in front of my dad. It was his source of comfort – the way to keep at least one thing the way it had always been.
Eventually, I moved to the city and my brother went away to college and the weekly dinners fizzled out. But one day, I found myself sitting in my new Brooklyn apartment missing my family terribly. Something made me head down the street to the grocery store and soon enough I was walking around in search of ingredients to make my own “upgraded” version of chicken parm. Boneless, skinless breasts went into my cart, along with panko breading, eggs, and the ingredients for a quick homemade red sauce. But the cheese was the final piece. I knew there had to be something better than the grated stuff that was in the pasta aisle. I grabbed a hunk of parmigiano reggiano and grated it into the chicken breading and also sprinkled some on top of the sauced and cooked cutlets before throwing them in the oven for the final cook. Much like it did for my dad, the final product took me back to a place of comfort while also reflecting the new adulthood I was experiencing as a young woman in New York. For the record, my dad couldn’t understand why I would want to change a recipe that he considered perfect, but acknowledged that my mother probably would have been impressed.
Whole Foods Market Celebrates Parmigiano Reggiano
When Whole Foods Market asked me to participate in their ParmCrack Challenge by developing a parmigiano reggiano recipe that used this special ingredient in a unique way, I knew I wanted to create something that captured the comfort I find in the occasional food indulgence, while also celebrating the awesome savory-ness of this cheese. I also wanted to try to incorporate the sweet-and-tangy flavor of some pickled peaches that I canned over the summer. My usual way of consuming pickled peaches is with a big bowl of vanilla ice cream, but I wondered if maybe an ice cream that mirrored the sugary-but-also-bitter flavor of the peaches would work. And oh did it. I will warn that this combo of flavors is not for the faint of heart, but the honey used to sweeten the cream base really brings out the smokier flavors of the cheese and minimizes the sharpness.
If you are also a lover of the parmigiano, visit your local Whole Foods Market on Saturday, March 9 at 2 p.m. CST as they try to re-claim the Guinness World Record for “Most Wheels of Parmigiano Cheese Wheels Cracked Simultaneously.”
Parmigiano Reggiano Ice Cream with Pickled Peaches Recipe
Note: I used pickled peaches that I made and canned over the summer, but you can find a great recipe for a quick (and sweet) pickle here.
- 2 cups organic heavy cream
- 1 cup organic whole milk
- 4 oz fresh parmigiano reggiano cheese, shredded
- 1/3 cup raw honey
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
1. Put the milk, heavy cream, cheese, and nutmeg in a sauce pan and turn the burner onto a medium-low heat. As it heats, whisk in the honey. Make sure it completely dissolves and continue to whisk until the cheese has melted in.
2. Once everything is all blended, pour the base into a bowl and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
3. While the base is cooling, get your eggs ready so they have some time to come up to room temp.
4. Carefully whisk the eggs into the base and then put it all back into the saucepan. Turn the burner on again, to a low heat. (You might want to wash out the bowl you’ve just emptied to use later on.)
5. Cook over low heat, constantly whisking until the mixture starts to get bulkier, but if clumps form you’ve cooked it too much.
6. Pour the mixture through a very fine mesh strainer. You might even want to line a strainer with cheese cloth. The key is to get the cheese solids out to prevent the finished product from being too grainy. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge to cool for no less than 2 hours.
7. Remove the mix from the fridge, put it into an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Put the semi-frozen mixture into a freezer-friendly container and store as you would any other ice cream. I use a KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment and always have to “cure” ice cream in the freezer after spinning it, in order to get the texture I want.
8. When the ice cream is frozen to your desired level of density, load it into a bowl, scoop on a heap of pickled peaches, get ready for some pursed lips, and enjoy!