I recently spent an afternoon eating my way through course after course dedicated solely to showcasing the magic of a certain Italian cheese and vinegar. Both are well-loved and often used in all sorts of dishes, but rarely as the main event. The more I ate, the fuller I became… full of delicious food and full of enthusiasm for these two ingredients. So much so that by the end of lunch I had vowed to use my Parmigiano Reggiano and Aceto Balsamico Traditionale di Modena with the respect they deserved, and that did not mean a little sprinkle over pasta or drizzle over salad. My intentions were pure, but it turned out that my devotion was not and a few weeks later, I found myself sprinkling and drizzling as I had always done.
So it seemed like fate when Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano told me to don my apron for an evening where I could actually do what I vowed I would: cook a dish where Parmigiano Reggiano was the star, and not the supporting act. The prospect of having another opportunity to eat an obscene amount of cheese was enough to get me in the kitchen, but when I found out that the kitchen was the one and only Le Cordon Bleu London, I was deliriously excited. Many of my office daydreams involved trading in my convoluted project plans and business cases for days filled with mise en place and hours in front of the stove at this culinary institution.
Once in the kitchen, Head Cuisine Chef Eric Bédiat wasted no time in introducing us to the menu and putting us to work. Having worked in a number of Michelin star restaurants in both France and the UK (including Michel Roux’s three star Waterside Inn), I knew we would be in safe hands but also suspected that Chef Eric took the business of teaching seriously. The first dish we would be tackling was a glazed polenta with wild mushrooms, sprouting broccoli, pickled grapes and a Parmigiano Reggiano foam. It might not be immediately obvious but Chef Eric had cleverly incorporated Parmigiano Reggiano into most of the elements; much better than my idea of just serving a huge hunk of cheese with a couple of crackers and calling it a job done.
The small semi-spheres of polenta were laced with Parmigiano Reggiano throughout before being glazed with a sprinkle of it at the end, we made a Parmigiano Reggiano tuile so we could artistically garnish our plates with the shards, and of course there was the most cheffy element of them all… the foam. Meanwhile, we also had to prepare our vegetables; beautiful in-season girolle and trompette mushrooms with equally striking purple sprouting broccoli were gently sautéed in plenty of butter and garlic. Then when all the elements were ready, it was time to plate. I have some way to go to get my finished dishes looking as sophisticated as Chef Eric’s but when it came to the taste test, I think I did just fine. The savoury, nutty notes of the Parmigiano Reggiano ran through the whole dish, some instances were subtle and mellow while others were unmistakable, and it paired brilliantly with the earthy autumnal vegetables!
For dessert, we were let off the hook ever so slightly… we did prep some of the apple elements for the Braeburn apple fondant with vanilla syrup, almond crumble and the Parmigiano Reggiano ice cream, but Chef Eric and his team did all the hard work. While we were indulging in the fruits of our labour, the apple balls were being sous vided, the almonds were being toasted, and the most important element, the ice cream, was being churned. The result was an elegant and surprising twist on the classic apple crumble. If you think Parmigiano Reggiano ice cream is just ludicrous, then I beg you to try it for yourself (happy to provide the recipe on request) before forming an opinion because it was splendid in this pairing. The saltiness from the cheese was just what those sweet apples and crumble needed to bring them back in line!
Once again, I left inspired to do more with my block of Parmigiano Reggiano. I am resigned to the fact that it will always serve as a finishing touch to my pasta but I also know it can be so much more. Parmigiano Reggiano polenta (turns out I quite like the stuff when it’s not a gluggy heap on the plate) can definitely make an appearance again, as can those tuiles. I can certainly be relied upon to grate then grill some cheese; Chef Eric proved that those golden shards were the perfect means of injecting flavour and texture into a dish. But the item that sealed the deal was the ice cream… if we can have a Parmigiano Reggiano-flavoured ice cream, I truly believe anything in my wildest cheese dreams is possible!
Have you got some great cheesy dishes you rustle up?
Thanks to Parmigiano Reggiano and Le Cordon Bleu for all the cooking inspiration, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone.
Pin It For Later?