Monday, November 4, 2013

Legends From Europe, Market Basket Recipe Contest: Parmigiano Reggiano Crostata di Primavera

A taste of Emilia-Romagna!

Quality ingredients make all the difference in the world!

  There is a major difference between Parmesan and Parmigiano Reggiano. In order for a cheese to be called Parmigiano Reggiano, it must be a product of Italy. As with many Italian agricultural products, there are very strict standards an Italian cheese-maker must abide by for it's product to be stamped a Parmigiano Reggiano. The cows who graze in Emilia-Romagna are nurtured and at times, a hand-fed specialty grasses that produce a complex flavor; results are a salty, nuttiness, with an almost caramel finish. These notes make it perfect for a variety of dishes, from sweet to savory, which is why my family loves cooking with it so much. 

My Bisnonna (great-grandmother) Elvira (nee-Piacente) Iannone's roots are from a small town called Piacenze in the Emilia-Romagna Region of Northern Italy, so Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, certainly, holds a special rank with me. I remember eating chunks of it dipped in reduced balsamic syrup, and shaving it on almost everything! We certainly cooked with a lot of this cheese growing up, and I hope she would approve of all of my creations made with the cheese from her beloved Region.
Over the years, my palate has changed greatly. In my hometown in Upstate NY, there are many Southern Italian-Americans. Most Italians in America emigrated form the Southern Regions of Italy, so many Italian restaurants specialize in Southern Italian cuisine. It wasn't until I had the chance to backpack throughout many regions throughout the North and South of Italy that I really had the chance to discover how vastly different the cuisine of each Italian region can be.  Having grown up with the palate for so many Southern Italian dishes, that were spicier, and more garlic-laden than those of the North, I was hungry for something different. I wanted to know the stories behind the dishes and what the locals ate. 

Great to snack on with reduced balsamic syrup
Having spent so much time in the Northern regions, my cooking became influenced by the ingredients that were specialties in the North. I began cooking more with balsamic vinegar from Modena in Emilia-Romagna, where I discovered how incredibly well it pairs with Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese from the same Region. Perhaps this is why they compliment each other so well?
However, one of the biggest influences of all is the Emilia  Romagna's signature-style of pairing sweet with salty, in savory preparations. It's not uncommon to see pears in a pasta dish with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. I love how sweet and savory flirt with each other to create an experience that is unexpected. It was the question mark that thrilled me. It was the challenge of changing a dish, so it is seen in a different way that awakens your senses, and makes you say, "hmmm? I never thought I would like that, but I do!"  

Each meal I prepare now is a different, more adventurous, experience after exploring the Northern Italian Regions. I find myself cooking with more fresh herbs and less salt. Dark chocolate and cheese have become a frequent pairing after seeing a wheel of Parmigiano Regiano and dark chocolate at the San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale in Florence, Italy. My panini press never knew what hit it! You may scratch your head on that one, but trust me, it tastes incredible!  You may never have thought of chocolate pasta as a savory dish, but just try it; You may surprise yourself! It is a very, unctuous dish, served with a cheesy, cream sauce or hearty, meat ragus in Italy. I love chocolate and Parmigiano Reggiano pasta dishes so much that I, actually, started making  my own chocolate pasta because it can be difficult to find here in the States. Polenta, risotto, and other rice dishes are just as favorable to me now as pasta, and Prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese have become breakfast foods. And, of course, there is the wine! Wine has become a staple ingredient in my dishes, as well as serving with the meal. An Italian once told me that wine and bread alone could be considered a meal!  I agree with that statement, but with one more inclusion,  I would need my cheese! Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese!

The colors in my torta were inspired by the Italian flag
 I made a Parmigiano Reggiano Torta Primavera that is reminiscent of a savory tart I had while staying with friends in Bologna, Italy. Made by the loving hands of the family "casalinga," (the Nonna of the home), and filled with Parmigiano Reggiano, fluffy ricotta and seasonal vegetables. Her version had plenty of zucchini and zucchini flowers, as it was seasonal at the time, but the crust was really the co-star of the dish, as it was made with the "king of Cheeses," as well. The grated cheese renders the crust with a kind of crunchiness, which I love, and is a nice counterpoint to the fluffy, cheesy interior filled with the bounty of spring ~ "primavera!"

P.D.O.- (Protected Designation of Origin)

When you purchase a genuine Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy,  you are choosing a cheese that is not just manufactured; this cheese is made the same way today as it was over eight centuries ago, and is a product of the P.D.O (Protected Designation of Origin) which holds very strict specifications in order to bear the entitlement of the Parmigiano Reggiano "stamp." So, you know you are getting the best of the best. And, aren't you worth it?!
 Turn a handful of humble ingredients into something elegant!


Blind-bake pie crust first

2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2/3 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese  (grated finely)
3 large egg yolks
8 tablespoon of butter (cold, cut into pieces)
1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg
½ teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of cracked black pepper
1/2 cup, plus 2 Tbsp. water


¾ cup of Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese (grated)
2 cups of ricotta cheese (drained)
3 Tbsp. of heavy cream
4 large egg yolks, plus one egg for brushing top of torta
1 ½ cups of chopped frozen spinach (thawed, with water squeezed out)
1 cup of marinated artichokes (oil drained, and chopped)
2 cups of red grape tomatoes (whole)
2 cloves of garlic (pushed through garlic press)
½ teaspoon of sea salt
¼ teaspoon of cracked black pepper

Facciamo torta, everyone! ~ Let's make torta, everyone!


A delicious torta with the colors of the Italian flag!
1.) In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add the butter and combine with your fingertips until it resembles fine crumbles.
2.) In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolks with the water and drizzle into the dry ingredients, mixing with your hands until it becomes a ball
3.) Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour (or, over night, if you want to prepare ahead)
4.)  After dough has chilled, remove from plastic and cut one quarter of it off and wrap back in plastic and return to refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll out remaining ¾ piece to a 13- inch round (about 1/8th -inch thickness).

5.) Line an 11- inch tart tin with the dough, pressing the dough into the bottom and sides. Trim any excess dough. Line the pie shell with parchment paper, and fill with pie weights or dry beans (legumes). Place on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven and set on a baking rack to cool.


1.) Reduce oven to 325 degrees. Remove remaining dough from the refrigerator.
2.) In a large bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with the heavy cream. Add the Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, spinach, artichokes, garlic, and salt & pepper, and mix thoroughly.
3.)  Fill the pie shell with the mixture.
4.)  Roll out remaining piece of dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into thin strips. Roll strips slightly to resemble long pieces of rope.
5.) Arrange the dough pieces on top of the torta into a latticework, or crisscross design.
6.)  Add a grape tomato inside the squares of the latticework, and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown (torta will puff up a bit).
7.) Transfer torta to a wire rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. 

You don't have to speak Italian to live your life in Italian!

Cobblestone street in Northern Italy


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