You know that you might have a problem when you think seriously about ordering a whole wheel of Parmesan cheese direct from Italy and try to rationalize it as “buying in bulk for savings.” Andrew finally talked me out of this scheme by pointing out that our farm did not come standard with a cheese cave and that unless we ate Parmesan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner –heaven!–some would inevitably go to waste. The thought of wasting such a precious substance finally snapped me out of my reverie, and I moved on to a plan to order a whole salmon, direct from Alaska; it is much more economical if you buy the whole fish, you know.
In seriousness, I do love me some Parmesan. I’ve become something of a snob about it too. Not that I won’t eat anything that someone serves me, but when I’m grocery shopping, those green tubes of shredded imitation cheese product will not do. I’ve gotta go to the good stuff: unshredded Parmesano Reggiano, preferably with those little flecks of crunchy flavor awesomeness imbedded within. I think that Parm holds a special place in my heart at least in part because it is a de rigeur accompaniment to Andrew’s (aka Marcella Hazan’s) meat sauce, which Andrew tends to make by the half gallon. We freeze half of it, and then feast for several days on the remainder, crowning the dish with a liberal topping of that king of cheeses.
I am fortunate to have in-laws who know of my addiction and have chosen to support it on occasion with lovely craggy blocks of cheese. Additionally, a few months ago, some friends accidentally left their Parmesan in our fridge after a potluck, and very grandly said that we could keep the cheese when alerted to their loss. As a result of these fortuitous circumstances, I’ve received my fix for the past several months.
A few days ago, however, I noticed that our cheese drawer was becoming over-full with Parmesan rinds. Due to a dim, unrealized feeling that they were too closely associated with deliciousness to discard, I’ve always wrapped the rinds in cellophane and shoved them to the back of the cheese drawer. There they’ve sat, not going bad, but definitely starting to take up space.
Fortunately, I recently stumbled across a promising-sounding recipe for Cabbage and Parmesan Rind Soup in Plenty, a vegetable-centric cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi. The recipe called for Savoy Cabbage, but as we had none of those and one 10-pound green cabbage from our friends at Misty Brook, I opted to try a substitution. Tuesday was one of those blustery days when the sunshine tricks you into abandoning long underwear and the wind then steals the warmth of your body every time you step outside–a perfect day for soup. I made the soup in about twenty minutes on either side of lunch, then let it sit (with the parmesan rinds, of course) for the rest of the afternoon as Andrew and I went to Reston and Bethedsa for our last winter CSA drop-offs.
When we returned home, long after dark, our soup was ready and waiting, deeply perfumed with the nutty flavor of Parmesan. I really do think that the cheese cave might be a good idea…
Savoy Cabbage and Parmesan RindSoup
6 T olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 t caraway seeds
1 medium savoy cabbage (or green cabbage works fine!)
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
5 cups stock, vegetable or chicken
3 oz. Parmesan rinds, plus additional Parmesan for topping the soup (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large pan (I recommend a soup pot or dutch oven) and saute the onion on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until soft bu without much color. Add the garlic and caraway seeds and cook for a further 2 minutes.
Shred the cabbage leaves roughly and add them to the onions along with the potato. Continue frying, stirring regularly, for 2-3 minutes.
Add enough stock just to cover the veggies and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, add the Parmesan rind, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the potato is tender. Remove the rind and puree the soup to the level of smoothness that you prefer. Adjust the seasonings.
You can serve the soup at this point, or let the Parmesan rinds continue to infuse the soup until you are ready to eat. If you are looking for a garnish, you can saute a few finely shredded cabbage leaves in oil with a bit of red chili and top each bowl with additional Parmesan cheese and the sauteed spicy cabbage.