Cheese Broth

Yes’m … we are back (well, at least the ones that could go) from beautiful and sunny South Beach, and as promised … well, as the saying goes, más vale tarde que nunca … we want to share a cool little frugal tip for using up those old rinds or just dried up bits of grating cheeses … in particular, the potent Italian ones like Parmigiano-Reggiano (cow from, ummm, Parma) and Pecorino Romano (sheep, from, uhhh, Sardinia for the most part … gimme a break, I’m not Italian, or a lawyer, and those definitions are mostly legal distinctions these days).

A friend of mine suggested using Manchego (Manchega sheep from La Mancha, originally, anyway, not sure if that applies today). He is, however, a pharmaceutical guy, and I can’t speak to whether a Manchego version will produce some kind of exhilarating high, terrifyingly soul-destroying low, or just go nicely with some tapas and a glass of Rioja.

Back to the point: what do you do with those bits? Other, of course, than skin your knuckles on the box grater trying to get as close as possible to the nasty, hard part, bleeding all over the nice pile of grated Parm you just spent 15 minutes building, and having to throw it out (wink wink, I won’t tell anyone), because your blood was all over it (no, that must be tomato!!!).

Answer number one, which is by far the most popular, is to throw them out. This can get expensive, especially if you get legit Parmigiano-Reggiano for $20 or $25 a pound. Pecorino is cheaper, but it ain’t that much cheaper. If that doesn’t bother you, then make the broth below and use it, and send me the $2 you were going to throw away. It will go to a much better cause.

Note to the reader … if you buy the pre-grated stuff like you would find in a little green plastic shaker, DON’T MAKE THIS, and swear to me you won’t ever buy that crap again. No, really, it’s crap. Buy yourself a little chunk of legit Parmigiano-Reggiano, and ignore the measurements in random recipes and cookbooks …  a LITTLE bit of the real deal, freshly grated, goes a LOT farther than shaking on a ton of the stuff from the plastic canister. Cheese is, by nature, alive. The moment you cut into it, it starts dying. If you grate it, process it, and pack it into a plastic canister, it turns into a skeleton, except it doesn’t taste as good as dried and grated bones.

Now, I know someone is going to come up with some awesome recipe involving the sawdust they pack in those tubes and post it, and I encourage you to try. That would be cool, and if I were able to transform something like that into something really delicious, I would shout it to the world. I will not hold my breath, but please don’t let that stop anyone trying.

Don’t get me wrong, that stuff has its places … one I like is where you shake it out of little glass holders or paper packets, along with some dried red chili flakes, on a cheese and sausage pizza, at an Italian place with Sinatra on the juke box, red checked tablecloths, paper place mats with a map of Italy on them, and a sign that says pitchers of Budweiser and carafes of Chianti are just $4 from 5 to 7. I love places like that, trust me.

Anyway, back to the good stuff. It’s a complicated recipe. The ingredients are as follows: cheese end(s), water, a pot, heat, patience.

More specifically, take an ounce or two of the rinds or dried out bits of cheese, put it in a pot with a quart of water, and heat it to a simmer on a range. When the water bubbles, adjust the heat so you can maintain a gentle simmer. Check it every so often and give it a gentle swirl.

After around two hours, take the pan off the heat, and strain the liquid into a container. Discard the cheese unless you see promise in it, but for what I’d have no idea. Let the liquid cool to room temperature and put it into the fridge. The next day, take it out gently, and remove and discard the fatty bits that have risen to the surface with a spoon or paper towel. Don’t stress out over it, just get the big ones.

There, that’s it. You now have Parm/Pec/Whatever broth, or stock, or fumet, whatever you want to call it.

But what do you do with it? Oooooh … lots of cool stuff. You want an easy one? Substitute the broth for water and make some rice (skip adding any salt to the rice, the broth will be chock full of it if you used good Parm or Pec, and PLEASE, use REAL bloody rice, not that parboiled or microwave or precooked or minute or Uncle Ben or whatever stuff). When the rice is done, sprinkle some sliced chives or minced green onions over it. Add black pepper to taste.

The next morning, take some of your leftover rice, add an egg yolk and some finely minced onion, and squish it together WITH YOUR HANDS. Form it into patties and fry it like a hamburger in some butter. Make some bacon if you’re the type, as you should be, and breakfast is served. I like to add a splash of hot sauce or some finely diced jalapeño (if I have some left over … last thing I want to touch in the early morning when I’m still rubbing my eyes is a knife and a spicy chili).

Later this week, we’re going to discuss … and damnit, there better be a video … how to use this stuff to make a couple other slightly more sophisticated but not much more complicated dishes: a nice tomato and basil risotto, and a stunning cacio e pepe … a quick pasta that’s great hangover food. As a special treat, r has provided a fantastic looking Red Onion Soup that’s perfect for these short January days … we’re going to give a bulk (i.e. restaurant) version as well as one for smaller crowds.

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