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My fridge is very rarely without Parmesan and when it is, its absence is sorely felt and rectified very quickly. Parmesan is the sort of ingredient that can make a simple salad feel special or a plate of ho-hum pasta feel dignified. It’s not that I necessarily plan meals around Parmesan; it’s more that I’m so happy to know that it’s always there, tucked away in the cheese drawer.
Here are five ways that I use Parmesan in my weeknight meals:
Winter Herb Pasta with Roasted Vegetables
This roasted vegetable pasta is the perfect example of how Parmesan can pull the most humble of ingredients -- spaghetti and root vegetables -- into a deeply flavored and sophisticated dinner. Roast any vegetables you have on hand in a hot oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper and cook pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, add a bit of reserved pasta water, thyme, and rosemary, and heat gently. Add the roasted vegetables, garlicky bread crumbs, and, of course, freshly grated Parmesan. The frilly wisps of cheese add a salty nuttiness that is vital to the success of this incredibly simple recipe.
Brussels Sprouts Salad with Red Onion and Pecorino
Ignore the word pecorino in this next recipe and go ahead and insert Parmesan instead because in the case of this brussels sprout salad, both are good. Pecorino tends to be a bit creamier and saltier, whereas Parmesan has a crumbly texture, a peppery bite, and an umami-rich saltiness.
To make this salad, use a mandoline to shave the brussels sprouts, then add the slivers to a bowl with thinly sliced red onion. Dress with a vinaigrette flavored with lemon, honey, and mustard, then fold in a generous 1/2 cup of Parmesan.
Parmesan-Crusted Butternut Squash
Baked Parmesan is a thing of beauty. Here, Parmesan and bread crumbs form a flavorful crust over sweet roasted butternut squash. Instead of roasting squash in the oven like you normally would, top it with a sprinkling of bread crumbs, Parmesan, nutmeg, minced garlic, and fresh thyme. It may not be exactly traditional, but this recipe makes a great contender for the holiday table.
This might just be the ultimate in Parmesan recipes. It’s called Parmesan Frico and while it’s technically just baked Parmesan, it’s also so much more than that. I often describe this as the ultimate cheese cracker. In my book, it becomes the bowl for a simple pasta, but it is also great crumbled and tossed into a salad. A microplane is perfect for grating the Parmesan here.
Bacon Leek Tart in Parmesan Crust
This recipe comes from my book, Date Night In. And while the book isn’t out yet, I’m really excited to share this recipe with you all. Parmesan plays a key role in the crust and complements the filling of bacon, leeks, and a creamy ricotta custard.
This crust also makes a great base for a tomato tart with herbed goat cheese.
Makes one 9 inch tart
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan (packed)
1/2 cup butter, chilled and cubed
3 tablespoons ice water
1 cup whole milk ricotta
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
4 strips regular cut bacon, roughly chopped
1 large leek, white and light green parts thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
First photo by James Ransom; all others by Ashley Rodriguez