I come from a big Italian family and Sunday night dinners at my parents' house are especially important events. We have our Sunday routine down pat: we go to church in the morning, shop at our local butchers' for the best meats & cheeses, run next door for a bottle of red wine (for the pasta sauce and for drinking) and then hurry home to start our meal. I wouldn't want my Sunday to be any other way!
There are a few food staples in our house like: San Marzano tomato cans and bay leaves, but one of the most important is cheese. You will always find a block of Parmigiano-Reggiano in our refrigerator. This is and has always been one of our favorite cheeses. It's perfect for snacking on and of course a necessity for sprinkling over soups, salads and pasta dishes. You can't beat the melt in your mouth, sharp, nutty flavor of Parmesan cheese.
When purchasing Parmesan cheese, it's important to know what you're buying. In my opinion, I think it's best to splurge a little on the real thing. You can find already cut blocks of Parmigiano-Reggiano at your grocery store, like H-E-B or Whole Foods, or local cheese shops, and usually they're displayed next to a wheel of the cheese.
You want a block of Parmesan that still has some of the rind left on it (the cheese rinds will have most of the dotted words 'Parmigiano-Reggiano') and it should be a light golden color. Yes, it is expensive, but you will get the full use out of it! Most stores do sell various brands of Parmesan, which are more of an inexpensive option, but might not give you the amazing flavor of real Parmesan cheese.
The rind is much harder than the actual cheese, but is completely edible and basically like gold in an Italian's eyes! The rind is formed on a wheel of authentic Parmesan cheese during the cheesemaking and aging process. If you're looking for that missing savory, rich flavor in your tomato sauce, soup, stew or any other long simmering dish, try throwing in the rind as a quick tip.
As your dish simmers, the rind will soften and give off that deep, savory flavor you were longing for. The extra umami kick adds a noticeable depth to any meal, not just Italian food. And if you have a piece of the rind that you cannot use right away there's no need to worry or to throw it away! Just wrap the rind and store in the freezer and it will last for months.
Here are some of my favorite ways to include the Parmesan rind in different recipes.
1. Parmesan Broth
Parmesan broth is a wonderful thing to make if you have a ton of Parm rinds stored away and you want to use them all up. Simmer the rinds with some aromatics like: garlic, onion, thyme, parsley, bay leaves, peppercorns and white wine and you will have a delicious broth to use right away or to store in the refrigerator or freezer.
2. Easy Risotto
Risotto is a type of Italian rice dish that can be a daunting thing to make for some, but with a little patience and a sturdy pan, it can easily be done. Arborio rice, along with onions, white wine and a few other ingredients are simmered in broth.
I'm sure you can guess which broth to use! This is a particularly useful way to use up that homemade Parmesan broth from the great recipe above. And of course it's best to finish off this risotto with some grated cheese, too!
3. San Marzano Marinara Sauce
There's really nothing better than Mom's San Marzano Marinara Sauce. I think every household has their own special touches and certain ingredients that they add to their sauce to make it one of a kind. One of ours is to throw in a Parmesan rind and let it simmer away. The deep flavors from the rind will infuse throughout the sauce and will be that missing ingredient you wish you had all along!
This sauce will be the perfect base for some of your favorite Italian dishes. Serve with crusty bread, of course.
4. Kale and Sausage Soup
Again, you can substitute chicken broth for Parmesan broth because why not?! It's so good! You can even add white beans to this soup to stretch it out through the week.
5. Toasted Parmesan Rinds
No, that's not a picture of two people toasting marshmallows over an open flame! They're toasting Parmesan rinds! How genius is this?
Pierce each rind with a fork and toast them over a gas flame for a few minutes. Or you can place them on a baking sheet and broil them until lightly browned on both sides. Slice them up and treat them like cheesy croutons! They also make a tasty snack.