I used to love dumping that pre-grated parmesan cheese in a can all over my pasta when I was little. In fact, although it’s incomprehensible to me now, for a time it was the only thing I’d allow on my pasta–it being a well-known fact that tomato sauce was “yucky” except on pizza. (Yes, and I complain about my kids being picky). At some weeknight church dinner or another I finally decided it was going to be a difficult road going through life hating marinara sauce. So I figured I’d better just learn to like it and just decided to start eating it. But I didn’t give up liberal additions of the canned powder on top (often enough whacking the base to unclump it and get more out).
That’s probably why I so clearly remember an episode of the Frugal Gourmet where the ingredient du jour was “true” Parmigiano Reggiano, and I imagine I was shocked to learn that that it came cut like a slice of pie from a giant wheel of cheese that had been sitting in a cave. (I don’t know how I thought it got in the can or where I thought it came from, or why in fact cheese was shelf-stable, but I digress). Of course I was intrigued, but as often happened when watching cooking shows from Boston, Chicago, or Seattle, despaired of ever finding the real thing at our local grocery store. But I didn’t forget–and this probably explains why a few years later me and my sisters were inordinately excited by the Italian restaurant 2 hours away at the fancy Oklahoma City mall (one that even had a Gap!) The Pepperoni Grill was known for its peppercorn bread with a log of parmesan cheese baked into the center–we always got an extra loaf that probably barely made it home.
(Lest anyone think I was some tween foodie, around the same time I was also frequenting the “Cougar Den,” the place to get lunch at my junior high–an 80-year-old converted athletics room, walls painted royal blue and lined with vending machines. And why, even if my kids one day charge me with hypocrisy, I am NOT a supporter of such machines in schools. And yes, somehow a place called the “Cougar Den” has a different ring to it these days).
Fast forward a few (ahem) years, and I’m a lot less picky but still enamored of parmesan cheese. Of course, even though I only buy the “real deal” I still wince at the price– which is why I loved the idea of this soup from one of my favorite cookbooks, Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi (who I’ve talked about before here and here–or check out Molly’s recent post here).
By using the rinds of parmesan cheese, I can stretch my food dollar a bit more and get a great meal in the process. So no, the word “rind” did not stray into the title of this post uninvited–it’s entirely intentional. And when you stop to think about it, there’s no reason that the heels shouldn’t impart that same distinctive, savory flavor of the cheese that it protects within its walls. And no reason you shouldn’t take advantage of it. I’ve been tossing rinds in the freezer as I go, and when I have enough, they’re ready to infuse a warm pot of broth, no thawing or forethought required.
You could add them to anything where parmesan flavor would be welcome, but I love them in this hearty soup. Much as I love vegetables, the rinds’ flavor ensures that you don’t feel like you’re sucking down a liquid salad–just as you might add a ham hock or pancetta to add some body, use your parmesan ends–and make your soup frugal and vegetarian to boot.
The other star ingredient here is caraway seeds–a classic Central European partner to cabbage, but perhaps a bit unusual when setting up a menage with Italian cheese. But the caraway is the fresh smell of digging in the dark earth after spring rain, while the parmesan is sunshine and sophistication and nuance. And they each in their own way perfectly bring out the Savoy cabbage that is the backbone of this soup.
If you don’t want to wait until you’ve collected enough rinds, you can make this soup just with parmesan cheese. Just please don’t throw the ends out in the interim. And do remember the next time you buy a wedge of that fancy cheese, that since you’re using the rind, it’s not quite so much a splurge–and there’s no reason to be tempted by that stuff in a shaker can.
Savoy Cabbage and Parmesan Rind Soup adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi.
Note: shred the cabbage by cutting in half, then removing the inner core and then by slicing each half as thin as you can–it will “shred” itself. You’ll want to make sure to reserve a few leaves for garnish–not only does it provide a lovely pop of color, but the fresh leaves add some textural interest.
- 3T olive oil
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2t caraway seed
- one medium head of Savoy Cabbage, shredded, with outer leaves reserved for garnish.
- one potato, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 dried hot pepper
- 4 c chicken or vegetable stock and 2c water
- 3 ounces parmesan rind (3-4 ends)
- Parmesan cheese and caraway, for garnish
Heat the oil in a deep soup pot over medium low and add the onion. Saute gently until soft, about 5-10 minutes. Add the caraway seed and garlic and stir, then cook two minutes more. Add the cabbage and potatoes and cook a few minutes more, until the cabbage starts to color. Add the hot pepper, the parmesan rind, and the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook about 20 minutes, or until the potato is soft. Add more water or stock if needed.
When ready, use an immersion blender to break up the soup. You don’t want to puree it, but rather convert into something thick and stew-like. Adjust for salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls. Shred the cabbage leaves reserved for garnish, and sprinkle a few shredded pieces into each bowl. Grate parmesan over the leaves and scatter a few caraway seeds over each bowl.