Cheese & Rice Around the World

Hello foodies!

Before spring break, I went to my first Cooking Club event! That night, we made Massimo Bottura’s Risotto Cacio e Pepe. I personally found the history and sense of social impact behind Bottura’s recipe to be quite meaningful.

Back in May of 2012, there was an earthquake in Northern Italy, which affected hundreds of individuals and also destroyed thousands of Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) cheese cylinders. This drastically impacted the Italian cheese industry and economy, so chef Massimo Bottura led a movement to get chefs around the world to buy these damaged cheese cylinders. He came up with a recipe that required a limited number of ingredients–one being parmesan–and was simple to make. In turn, chefs in countries such as Japan, France, and America bought the damaged cheese cylinders and recreated Bottura’s recipe.

There are two main steps for making the risotto. The first one is to make the parmesan broth by boiling parmesan in a pot of water. After letting the cooked pot of cheese sit overnight in the fridge, the parmesan will separate into three separate and well-defined layers: a cream layer, broth layer, and a solid layer. The separate parts of the parmesan broth reminded me of how after my mom freezes her leftover Chinese soup or curry overnight, a layer of fat and oil solidifies on the top. The next day, she uses a strainer spoon to carefully scoop that layer off.

The second part of making the risotto is to cook the rice! Risotto is prepared in a slightly different way than what I am used to. Growing up on Chinese cooking, I had my fair share of soft, chewy, and easy to swallow rice. When making rice back home, we wash the rice, add water to the pot, and then start the rice cooker. However, cooking risotto requires an extra step, which is to fry the rice in a pan beforehand. This gives risotto that slightly crunchier texture. After we fried the rice in the pan, we slowly added the layer of broth from the parmesan broth into the pan, cup by cup. The cooking process took a while, so some of us made Italian wedding cookies, but that’s another (delicious) story. When the rice was almost fully cooked, we added the cream layer (from the parmesan broth) into the pan.

What about the leftover solid layer from the parmesan broth? To my surprise, the solid cheese still tasted like parmesan. It is great for bread appetizers or just for snacking. The next step was to plate the food. Of course, presentation is everything. One cool trick Ingrid, the person who led the Cooking Club event, taught us is to place the risotto in a plastic bowl-shaped container, and then turn the container over and onto the plate. Sprinkle a little pepper, add cilantro on top, and voilà–rich, chewy but slightly crispy, and incredibly filling risotto. Having a small amount of risotto was more than enough to keep my stomach satisfied. Taking part in this Cooking Club event was so much fun because I was able to meet and bond with a group of people who were just as passionate about enjoying delicious food as I was, while creating a wonderful home-cooked meal. As an on-the-go college student, I find it difficult at times to appreciate the meal preparation process as much as I do the food. This made me reflect on how cooking can be and is very much so a social activity.

Peace Out Girl Scout,

Justin Yue
Penn Appétit Blogger

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