5 unusual ways of using Parmigiano Reggiano

by Great British Chefs 24 November 2021

A stalwart of Italian cuisine, Parmigiano Reggiano is often grated on top of dishes or gently cooked into sauces. These days, however, it’s used in a whole host of dishes and cuisines from beyond Italy’s borders. We take a look at some of the more unusual ways you can use the one and only Parmesan.

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Whether it’s piled high in a mountain atop a steaming bowl of pasta, melted across the top of a bubbling aubergine parmigiana or used more subtly in a creamy sauce, Parmigiano Reggiano has an important role to play in all sorts of traditional Italian dishes. This is by no means a cheese that’s limited to just Italian food though. Parmigiano Reggiano is a hugely versatile product and can be used to add a rich umami depth to all sorts of different recipes.

The famously sharp, savoury taste of Parmigiano Reggiano is largely a result of the long ageing process that the cheese goes through and over time tyrosine crystals start to develop, giving the cheese a slight crunch too. Parmesan can therefore be used in recipes both as a form of seasoning but also to add texture to a dish. Over time, chefs across the world have become more and more inventive in the ways they use Parmigiano Reggiano in their cooking, leading to some truly innovative and unusual Parmesan-based plates. These are five recipes which use Parmigiano Reggiano in ways you might not have seen before.

Cucumber gazpacho with Parmesan custard

When you imagine a traditional Spanish cold soup, your mind probably doesn’t leap to images of cucumber, let alone Italian cheese; this recipe from Kerth Gumbs proves that it’s a combination that really works. Featuring a set Parmesan custard, made by mixing Parmigiano Reggiano with bread, warm milk and eggs, the dish uses the rich, savoury taste of the cheese to balance out the freshness of the cucumber. The pale custard also provides a fantastic visual contrast to the vibrant green gazpacho.

Parmesan ‘cloud’, Parmesan ice cream, tomato jam, pickled sunflower seeds

This dish is an out-and-out celebration of Parmigiano Reggiano but done in an ultra-contemporary way. Chef Mat Gillan uses the hard cheese in multiple different elements here, showcasing its amazing versatility. A light Parmesan cloud, made by whisking Parmesan-infused chicken stock, is the perfect accompaniment to the creamy Parmesan ice cream. A Parmigiano Reggiano crumb is then added for extra crunch while the dish is finished with Parmesan oil, to ensure that the unmistakable flavours of the cheese are omnipresent in this restaurant-quality plate of food.

Parmesan and wild garlic tart with lemon, chicory and pea sprouts

Parmigiano Reggiano is at the heart of this classical dish, which combines the sharpness of the cheese with the fresh, herbaceous aromas of foraged wild garlic to create a seriously elegant starter. By mixing the Parmesan with whipping cream and puréed celeriac, you get all the rich umami flavour that the cheese is famous for, as well as a beautifully creamy texture. Atkins’ tart is a wonderful example of how this staple Italian ingredient can be used in a recipe that’s more French in style.

Fried Brussels sprouts with lemon, sage and Parmesan crumb

You might not associate a traditional Christmas dinner with Parmigiano Reggiano but in this recipe, Luke Holder uses it to elevate a classic side. Brussels sprouts famously aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but by creating a crunchy crumb rich with Parmesan which is sprinkled over the fried sprouts, you’re adding an extra level of indulgence. Not only does the tang of the cheese cut through the nuttiness of the sprouts but it also adds a pleasing contrast in texture.

Parsnip, Parmesan and sage bread

Have you ever baked using Parmesan before? If not, it’s well worth trying and can bring a wonderful added depth to a loaf. In this recipe, James Mackenzie combines Parmigiano Reggiano with grated parsnip and sage for the ultimate autumnal combination of flavours. The cheese is then also grated on top of the bread before baking to give the loaf a perfect gratinated finish. What’s more this loaf of bread only takes a little over an hour to make from start to finish – the perfect project for a weeknight.