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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Parmesan Frico: Simple But Elegant -- and Delicious!

If you're looking for a simple but extremely flavorful nibble to serve with a glass of wine or to use as an elegant garnish for everything from a rich risotto to an uncomplicated salad – or if you just want a darn tasty little snack – may I recommend a Frico di Parmigiano?

In plain English, a frico is a cheese crisp. The roots for this delectable little wafer go back to the Friuli region of Italy, where it is commonly made from Montasio cheese. It can also be made from mozzarella, but my favorite version is the one I make from “the Undisputed King of Cheeses,” Parmigiano-Reggiano. The crispy, salty, tangy flavor is out of this world.

Variations of the recipe go back to the days of Maestro Martino, a noted 14th century Italian cook. But there's absolutely nothing complicated about making frico; all you need is a hot pan or an oven and cheese. That's it.

As noted, you can fry or bake your frico. My preferred method is baking. And I'm picky about the cheese. If you can't find – or afford – Parmigiano-Reggiano, a fresh domestic Wisconsin or California Parmesan will work, but avoid like the plague the cheese-flavored sawdust in a can most people identify as Parmesan cheese.

Start by grating up a quantity of the cheese. How much will depend upon how you'll be using it. I use a Microplane grater, which produces a fine, light grating that resembles snow.

Line a baking sheet with a silpat or with parchment paper. Portion out little – or not so little – round piles of grated cheese, then use the back of a spoon to slightly flatten them into circles. Again, the size will depend upon the application. The cheese will spread as it melts, so make sure you leave adequate space between the circles.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and bubbly. Golden and bubbly, not brown and nasty.

As I said, I prefer baking, but if you'd like to try frying, use a medium non-stick skillet. Some people add a little butter or olive oil to just coat the bottom of the pan. If you have a good non-stick, you really shouldn't need it, and I think it sometimes makes the frico a bit heavier. Just grate the cheese as in the baking method and evenly distribute a thin layer over the bottom of the pan. Cook over medium heat until the cheese melts and forms a light crust, about 3 or 4 minutes. Keep cooking until the edges set and a golden crust develops, about another 30 seconds or so, then, using a spatula, carefully turn the frico and cook the other side until lightly golden, about another 30 seconds to a minute.

If you're just going to use the frico as crisps or wafers for a garnish or a snack, let them cool slightly and carefully lift them from the baking sheet using a thin spatula. But here's a fun and elegant twist; form the frico into edible bowls and fill them with risotto or the fixings of a salad. Just let the frico cool enough to handle but not to set. Then mold them over an inverted cup or bowl – or in the cups of a muffin tin – and allow them to finish cooling into the desired form. They'll be fragile, so handle them carefully. And don't fill them with anything too moist; they are made of cheese, after all. I've used them to contain simple salads and as vehicles for various antipasti. And the reactions from your family, friends, or other guests will be well worth the effort, believe me.

Buon appetito!

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