Parmesan crisps are extremely easy to make and look super impressive on the plate. In fact if you have access to a grater and an oven you pretty much have all you need to make these crispy little wonders.
As a garnish, they add a salty, umami-rich element to salads, soups, risottos and starters; or a bowl of them can make a delicious snack or pre-dinner nibble. They can even be moulded into tasty little tart cases or baskets and filled for a little twist on a canapé or amuse bouche.
Parmesan is a naturally straw-coloured hard cheese with a rich, fruity flavour. It is made from skimmed or partially skimmed cow’s milk. Italy’s ‘Parmigiano Reggiano’ is the original, although you can find similar versions from USA, Australia & Argentina.
The original Italian version remains superior however, boasting a delicious, rich, granular texture and unbeatable flavour. This is partly due to a longer maturing time of around two years, rather than the minimum 12 months required. Authentic Italian parmesan has ‘Parmigiano Reggiano’ stamped on the rind.
Always buy Parmesan in a chunk, from which you can cut at home as needed and, if possible, buy it from a place where you can see the piece being cut from the whole cheese. When it’s at its best, the surface of a chunk of parmesan has tiny beads of moisture glistening on the surface; this is called ‘congocciola’.
Parmesan swiftly loses its flavour when it’s grated, so don’t even think about buying it ready-grated in tubs or bags, as it will soon take on the flavour of old sawdust. This is a great injustice to the art of parmesan making! So when making these crisps make sure you grate the parmesan just before you plan on cooking them, so you get maximum flavour.
Once cooked these parmesan crisps can be stored in an airtight container for up to 12 hours, much longer than this and they will start to lose their fresh flavour.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Grate the parmesan very finely on a microplane.
- Line a baking sheet with silicone paper or a silicone mat. Using a 7cm circle cutter as a guide, spoon a layer of the grated Parmesan into the ring and press down lightly to given an even layer.
Place the baking sheet into the oven for approx. 7-10 minutes until very light golden brown – they can burn easily so check regularly.
Leave to cool before carefully transferring on to a wire rack with a palette knife. Transfer to an air tight container and use as required.
- If shaping the parmesan crisps, remove them from the baking sheet, while they are still hot and pliable, and mould over a rolling pin for a curved shape or pressed between two brioche tins for a basket. Leave to cool and firm up before transferring to a air tight container.
Buying Your Parmesan
Parmesan is sold at various stages of the maturing process.
Giovane is the youngest (14-18 months).
Vecchio is 18 months to 2 years.
Stravecchio is 2 or 3 years old and the extra mature.
Stravecchione is 3 to 4 years old.
The more mature the cheese is, the more expensive; younger cheeses are more economical to cook with, while the deeper flavour of older parmesan is preferable for a real impact.
When it comes to parmesan, as it is with all cheeses, buy little and often, so that your cheese is always at its best.
Note that Parmesan isn’t suitable for vegetarians as it contains calf rennet, so look for a vegetarian, ‘Parmesan-style’ hard cheese instead. Vegetarian versions of parmesan can be found in supermarkets and delicatessens and can used as a substitute cheese in this recipe.
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