Have you ever taken a cooking class? You know, one of those real hands-on experiences, where they set you up with a workstation and an apron and you turn out a restaurant quality meal while learning from the pros? Well, I did that very thing last week at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida. Me and 23 of my fellow South Florida bloggers met up at the Biltmore Culinary Academy where authentic Parmigiano Reggiano was the star of the night!
We were welcomed into the kitchen with flutes of prosecco and a spread of olives, Iberico ham, marcona almonds and of course, shards of that epic cheese! This evening was all about cooking with Parmigiano Reggiano and Danielle Caponi Bolla, with the Consortia del Formaggio Parmigiana Reggiano (that’s a mouthful), spoke of the things that make this cheese so unique.
- Over 900 years of tradition with 300+ producers – all from the same region of Italy
- Contains only 3 ingredients: Raw Cow’s Milk, Rennet, Sea Salt
- Rich in High Quality, Easily Digestible Proteins
- No Additives, EVER!
- Lactose Free – even people afflicted by dairy intolerance can eat this cheese
- PDO – It has a Protected Designation of Origin Label to assure authenticity
Chef David Hackett and Chef de Cuisine, Giuseppe Galazzi gave us the tour of the kitchen and the best ways to maneuver in the space with sharp knives and hot pans to avoid accidents. Then they divided us into six groups of four and assigned a recipe. My group got the Iberico Ham, Phyllo, Parmigiano Reggiano Asparagus Fingers. Yum!
Other groups worked on dishes like:
- Gnocchi with Key Lime Butter Sauce
- Sea Scallops with a Parmigiano Reggiano Crust and Cumin and Corn Salsa
- “Tacos” with a taco shell made from Parmigiano Reggiano
- Cuban Picadillo, Potato Flan with a Chorizo Wild Mushroom and Tomato Ragu
- Chocolate Dipped Fruit Kebabs with Parmegiano Reggiano and Toasted Coconut Dust
We began by trimming and peeling the asparagus spears, then blanching and shocking them in ice water. After removing the spears from the ice bath, they needed to be completely dried with paper towels and sprinkled with a bit of pepper (no salt needed, because of the Iberico ham and parmesan). We formed an assembly line, drying, sprinkling and wrapping the asparagus and transferred them to a baking sheet.
As Nancy pulled out the phyllo dough, Chef Giuseppe gave us some advice… “Clear your workstation and cover it with plastic wrap.” What??? He said that working with phyllo and melted butter can get pretty messy and the plastic wrap makes clean-up a lot easier. Um, why didn’t I think of that? I am wrapping my entire kitchen in plastic wrap from now on.
It helps if you have an industrial sized roll of Saran wrap to completely cover the work surface … lucky restaurant kitchens! We arranged the phyllo dough in a stack, loosely covered by a damp cloth, next to the butter, 6 cups of grated Parmegiano Reggiano and the Iberico wrapped asparagus. The assembly line began again. Doubling up and buttering the phyllo, sprinkling on the parmesan, rolling up the asparagus, brushing with more butter and dusting on more cheese. Not a low-cal dish.
While they baked in a hot oven my teammates and I refilled our wine glasses and meandered around to the other stations to see what else was cooking. One group was hand-rolling gnocchi and blanching it, another was mashing potatoes for the flan, a third was coating sea scallops with mayo and the famous cheese, another was stirring a savory filling for those tacos and the last group was carving fruit and melting a spicy chocolate sauce.
When everyone had completed their dishes, each team described their offerings to the group. Then the moment of truth — sampling the fruits of our labors. Ah-Mazing! The squeals of delight, groans of satisfaction and general patting each other on the back gave the room a buzz of excitement and camaraderie.
Previously, I hadn’t given thought to all the uses for Parmegiano Reggiano, but this class has – gotten my creative juices flowing. I’ve also learned that there truly is no substitute for the real thing and I’ll be on the lookout for the identifying DOP label, along with those tell-tale pin-points spelling out Parmegiano Reggiano on the rind. It’s worth it. And if you’re interested in taking one of the Biltmore’s Cooking Classes, check out their schedule here. It’s a fun and unforgettable experience!
Iberico Parmesan Asparagus Fingers
An impressive hors d'oeuvre to serve with cocktails!
- 15 thick asparagus spears trimmed and stems peeled
- black pepper freshly ground, to taste
- 15 thin slices Iberico ham
- 15 sheets Phyllo dough
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- 1 1/2 cups Parmigiano Reggiano freshly grated
- Preheat the oven to 400°. Set a wire rack over a baking sheet and set aside.
- Add equal parts ice and water to a large bowl and set aside.
- Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Blanch the asparagus in the water for about 2 minutes, then transfer immediately to the ice bath. Remove from the ice bath and dry completely with paper towels.
- Sprinkle the asparagus with pepper. Wrap each asparagus spear with Iberico ham, allowing the tip of the asparagus to show through at the top.
- Lay 1 sheet of phyllo on a work surface with the short end in front of you. Brush it with butter and fold it over lengthwise. Brush it with butter and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of parmesan cheese. Place an ham wrapped asparagus spear on the phyllo with the tip sticking out over the phyllo and begin to roll it up into the phyllo, brushing with a little butter to the phyllo sticks to itself as you roll. Brush with a little more butter and dust it lightly with more parmesan. Place the rolls onto the wire rack. Continue with the remaining asparagus.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the asparagus fingers over and bake for an additional 5-8 minutes until crisp and golden brown.
- Cool for a few minutes before serving. Arrange them whole, or as the recipe suggests, slicing them on an angle into bite sized pieces.
Chef David did say not to stack the fingers because they would get soft and lose their crunch if they were stacked on top of one another.
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