My stainless steel, Roman grater sits comfortably in the groove of my bent left arm, cradled almost, whilst I grate my Parmigiano Reggiano in circular motions. Growing up this was always my job; my sister Daniela could never be trusted as she would eat more than she would grate. I was the cheese preparer, a job that I was and still am more than willing to do, and yes I also munch away as I grate, the only difference is I was never caught in the act! The grater fills leaving a fine snowfall of light Parmigiano Reggiano while in my right hand, I hold the smooth, almost naked rind. The rind is so much more than the firm outer fragrant coat and protective layer of the cheese, it is the gift of possibility.
This time of year, I crave simple, easy, and speedy comfort food. The word comfort instantly musters up the wonder of a one pot dish that if anything, improves with time. Pasta e fagioli, the peasant style pasta and bean soup dish, is just that. Last week I was invited to join Gennaro Contaldo via zoom with Parmigiano Reggiano to create some seasonal simplistic dishes showcasing the uses of Parmigiano Reggiano.
Parmigiano Reggiano features in most, if not all my dishes in one form or another. Served with a drizzle of honey and oven roasted figs, dressed through pasta, used with a combination of stale breadcrumbs, garlic, herbs and eggs to fill vegetables to bake, served with certain fish dishes *sorry, and to infuse cream as well as standing strong as our Italian leader on a classic Italian cheese board.
The rind however offers a depth of flavour and great texture. I tend to drop a rind into slow cooked sauces, soups, and stocks to maximise flavour. The rind offers something that is almost indescribable yet required. In the pasta e fagioli recipe the rind is chopped into tiny pieces and added to the soup, this adding flavour, texture, and a surprising tender bite with most mouthfuls.
- 4 tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil
- ½ Red onion, finely chopped
- 1 Celery stick, finely chopped
- 1 Medium-sized carrot, finely chopped
- 1 Garlic, crushed
- 400g Borlotti beans, cooked
- 1 litre vegetable stock
- 5 Cherry tomatoes, halved
- 200g Mixed pasta shapes
- 70g Parmigiano Reggiano rind, cut into small cubes
- 25g Fresella (crispy bread)
- Leaves of 6 small thyme branches
- In a large pot, heat olive oil, add onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. Sweat for about 5 minutes. Stir in the beans, add stock and tomatoes, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Increase the heat, add the pasta, then reduce the heat to medium and cook until the pasta is ready. Remove from the heat, stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano rinds and leave to rest for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper as required.
- In the meantime, combine the crispy bread, thyme leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. Divide the pasta & fagioli between bowls, sprinkle with the crispy bread mixture and serve.