My family lives by the rule that there must be a hunk of Parmegiano Reggiano on hand at all times. Grate a little on scrambled eggs or on the dullest of pastas and you’re suddenly a lot more excited about the meal you’re about to eat. Keeping up with my family’s Parmegiano habit is a bit of a splurge, but we’ll gladly make room in our grocery budget any day of the week. [PS: If you don’t already have a microplane grater, go out and get one. It’s great for making fluffy, ethereal piles of granted Parmegiano — awesome for lemon zest too].
Parmegiano rinds themselves are a rather magical ingredient. When you come upon them rock hard and abandoned in some far corner of your refrigerator it might seem tempting to toss them, but curb those impulses — Parmegiano rinds are umami gold! They are my #1 go to fix-it ingredient whenever I make a soup or a pasta sauce that’s somewhat lacking. When a flavor crisis arises, just throw in a cheese rind and then sit back, let it simmer and you’ll coax out a flavorful, complex saltiness that can cure even the biggest case of the blahs.
My friend Becky told me she requests Parmegiano Reggiano rinds from her local cheese monger and gets them on the cheap. We seem to eat Parmegiano like it’s going out of style so we always have a rind or two on hand, but I may just need to try that trick one of these days.
In case you needed more inspiration for saving those cheese rinds, here are a few ingenious ideas that I know you’re going to want to try. Enjoy!
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Have you ever had one of those ultimate meals — one your mind wanders back to, even years later? Tortellini in brodo at a little restaurant in Bologna (I can’t even remember the name of the place!) ranks in there as one of the best things I have ever eaten. A few humble tortellini swimming around in some broth — but somehow impossibly delicious. Tim says his grandmother’s cousin Alina used to whip up homemade tortellini for lunch whenever they came to visit her in Lucca, Italy. I regret that I never had the chance to sample them. You can’t get much better than homecooking from an Italian nonna!
So, peeking into my refrigerator the other day and seeing a half of a package of gyoza wrappers and a few pieces of prosciutto, I got the inspiration to take a try at tortellini. It’s really not too hard but it does take some time, so better saved for when you’re not rushed to get dinner on the table. You can do some of it in advance (the broth, the filling) and it’s a nice way to use up extra roasted meat you might have on hand. This definitely falls into the category of something extra special to cook for people you love! Most kids love simple, uncomplicated food, so this should be a big hit.
This will make 100+ tortellini. You can freeze the extra tortellini on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper and transfer to a freezer safe container once they are frozen.
- 1/2 pound chicken (breast or thigh, your choice)
- 1 small onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk celery
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- Several slices proscuitto and/or mortadella
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 egg yolk
- ~100 Fresh pasta squares (wonton wrapper will do)
Extra Chicken-y Broth
I got a little inspiration in the broth department from Charlie Trotter’s “Egg Drop Soup with Ginger-Braised Chicken” recipe from the “Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home” cookbook. He makes a super flavorful broth by simmering chicken in stock and using the resulting braising liquid for the final dish.
- In a hot pan, sear the chicken for a few minutes on both sides until golden.
- Roughly chop 1 small onion, 1 carrot and 1 celery stalk and add to the pan, cooking 5-10 minutes until caramelized.
- Add 2 quarts chicken stock and simmer 30 minutes or so or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken.
- Put the stock through a strainer and skim off the fat. Or to make things easier make the stock the day before, strain and refrigerate, removing the fat after it has cooled.
- Remove skin/bones from the cooked chicken and finely mince. (BTW: In lieu of or in addition to the chicken, you could substitute any combination of cooked meats you might have on hand… a good opportunity to use up leftovers)
- Add a few slices of minced prosciutto and/or mortadella, one egg yolk, and a cup or so of grated parmesan cheese, and just a teeny pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. You could add well-drained ricotta or whatever herbs or seasonings you desire. Mix until well combined. Since all but the egg yolk is cooked, definitely taste and adjust the seasonings — you could even mix in the egg yolk after tasting if you’re concerned about it.
- Fill each pasta square with a tsp of filling. Lightly wet the edges and fold in half to form a triangle. Press to seal making sure there are no air pockets. With the triangle point facing up, bring the 2 bottom corners together around your finger and pinch to seal. Gently fold back the triangle point (the one that was facing up). Place on a kitchen towel without letting the tortellini touch. I used circular gyoza wrapers just because I had them and it worked out fine. Homemade pasta if you really have some time on your hands, would be phenomenal, of course.
- Here’s a video if you want a quick little video tutorial on folding tortellini.
- Heat the broth. If you want you can throw in a handful of peas and some steamed, diced carrots (I know, not traditional, but I’m always trying to get more vegetables on the table).
- Cook the tortellini in well-salted water for 8-10 minutes.
- Spoon the cooked tortellini into bowls and ladle the broth (with the optional vegetables) over. Add some grated parmesan cheese on top.