If you grate the cheese, be grateful for the rind

Leftover rinds of Parmesan cheese challenge many a cookIf you are a fan of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, you probably buy chunks of it. You grate them and devour them. Eventually you are left with rinds that are too small to grate, but too precious to throw away.

If you are like me, these rinds pile up in the cheese bin of the fridge. At $16 a pound or more, how could you possibly throw them away?

Then the time comes to utilize these rinds. Tossing them in a stock or soup is a time-honored tradition. So is simmering them with fresh tomatoes for a pasta sauce.

Parm rind in a pot of stewed tomatoes, later to be strained for a soup
Parm rind in a pot of stewed tomatoes, later to be strained for a soup

Yet there are other ways to utilize these rinds. I am sharing a method I learned from a line chef at Oliveto, after I asked him about pasta recipes for a dinner party.

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His suggestion was simple. Take a large rind, and simmer it in a pint of cream or more. Add herbs, sauteed garlic and/or grated cheese. Season with salt. Work your cooked noodles into the sauce with some pasta water, add a pop of butter and serve.

I followed his instructions, using fresh hand-made pasta. My friends were in awe. One friend, Rex, said I had served him the best dish of pasta he'd ever eaten.

Clearly Rex doesn't get out much, but he was right: The dish was a delight. By slowly cooking the cream with the rind, the earthy, rustic taste of the Parmesan was infused throughout the pasta, which was draped in a velvety sauce.

So give it a try, especially when friends come over. If you are going to prepare a dish with this many calories, it is always better to share.

Gemelli with Parmesan rind cream sauce, roasted squash and tomatoes
Gemelli with Parmesan rind cream sauce, roasted squash and tomatoes

Pasta ala Parmigiano Reggiano rind

Serves: 4-6

Ingredients:
1 rind of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, about 2x4 inches, and 1/4 inch thick
1 pint of heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
Up to 1 cup of reserved pasta water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 pound of dried pasta, or 2 pounds of fresh egg noodles, either homemade or store bought
Kosher salt for pasta water

Preparation:

1. Clean rinds, if needed, with a damp towel. Grate cheese and chop garlic.

2. As water starts to heat in your pasta pot, cook garlic slowly in a separate skillet with the olive oil. Do not let it get brown, but cook it until most of the raw garlic taste is gone.

3. Add cream and parm rind to skillet. Turn up heat until cream bubbles and foams, and then turn down to maintain a low simmer. If cream gets extremely thick, turn off heat and let sit.

4. Once your pasta water comes to a boil, add a small handful of kosher salt to the water, stir and add pasta to the water. Cook until just short of al dente. Remove from water and save at least one cup of the water.

5. Add pasta to skillet. Turn up heat and serve. Ladle a small amount of the pasta water to the skillet as you stir. You want to maintain a creamy but not a thick or soupy sauce. Add butter and stir. When pasta is al dente, add half of the cheese and stir. Check a noodle for seasoning, and add salt, if needed. Turn off heat and use tongs to place pasta onto plates. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top of each plate and serve.

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Note: This dish lends itself to multiple treatments. Cook chopped leaks with the butter instead of garlic. Top the final pasta with blanched vegetables, such as asparagus or green beans. I added the parm cream to gemelli noodles and topped them with chopped roast squash and tomatoes.

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