Years ago I learned to make the classic lacy cheese crisps of Friuli Italy called frico, one of those miraculous creations that LOOK really difficult to make, but aren’t. They are the perfect hors d’oeuvre with cocktails, and inspire improvisations; their delectable uses are legion. Best of all, you can make them on the stove top (great in warm weather) OR in the oven for quicker rougher ones (method at bottom).
I whip up cheese crisp in a flash using store-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. You can make them with other hard aged cheeses sharp Cheddar, dry Gouda, dry Jack, Manchego — or the traditional Montasio —that you grate yourself on a coarse box grater.
Beyond a perfect hors d’oeuvre, cheese crisps make fabulous garnishes and “crackers”: just match the cheese to the dish. For example, Aged Jack Cheese Crisps are great with Mexican-style black bean soups. I use Cheddar crisps like a pastry lid for roasted, caramelized apples. Parmesan crisps are the most universally compatible crisps; they are wonderful with white bean soups or warm bean salads, or Tuscan-style sweet pepper stews. Broken Parmesan crisps also make great platforms for eggplant or sweet pepper jams, caramelized onions, white or fava bean purees, and so on, to serve as hors d’oeuvres. Just about any cheese crisp goes well with a green salad, instead of a cheese course. They are lovely with scrambled eggs.
Recipe: Parmesan and Other Cheese Crisps
For eight 9-inch rounds, figure:
8 ounces (about 3 cups) fresh, fine, store-ground Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
12 ounces sharp Cheddar, dry Gouda, dry Jack or Manchego (grated on a box grater/shredder with holes about 1/4-inch wide)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Gently toss the cheese, flour and pepper together in a medium bowl.
As with pancakes, it’s a good idea to make a “test” crisp to get a sense of how quickly they cook, how hot the pan is.
Heat a heavy 10-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Reduce the heat slightly. Measure 1/3-cup Parmigiano, or about 1/2 cup of the coarsely grated cheese. Use your fingers to scatter it as evenly as you can over the bottom of the skillet to make a thin, lacy pancake. (If I have a small box on hand, I put the cheese mixture in it and sprinkle it from one corner of the box. It allows me to “aim” the cheese exactly where I want it). The cheese should sizzle when it hits the pan, but it should not smoke; adjust the heat as necessary.
Cook the crisp until the strands of cheese have become molten and bubbly, about 2 minutes; if the cheese is runny, gently tip the pan in different directions to even out the cheese and fill in holes. Continue cooking until a medium golden brown shows through the molten cheese, and the edges are golden.
Remove the pan from the heat and let sit 30 seconds to 1 minute to set. If the crisp hardens too much before you get to it, return the pan to the burner for a few seconds to warm and soften it.
With a plastic spatula, gently peel the pancake up by one edge; if begins to tear, let it cool a few seconds longer. Slide it onto a cake rack to cool. Let the crisp set until hardened about 3 minutes.
Wipe out the pan with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining cheese mixture.
To speed the process up, of often use two skillets in tandem, with the timing slightly staggered. When one pan is cooling, I add cheese to the other hot pan. While that cooks, I remove the cooled crisp from the other pan and wipe it out to reheat.
When still warm and pliable, the crisps are easy to mold by draping them over bowls or a rolling-pin. When cool, they will hold the shape.
When the crisps are completely cool, they can be gently stacked and stored in a tin or box. Don’t worry if the crisps break. They are charming served as freeform shards.
Roasted Cheese Crisps for Breaking
You can also spread the whole batch of cheese mixture, above, on a sheet pan and bake it to make crisps; when cool break them into rough pieces. Although this method is even faster and easier than frying the crisps, it doesn’t achieve quite the same gorgeous texture. And you absolutely must use a silicone baking mat (commonly known as a Silpat), or a Teflon bakeware liner to keep them from sticking to the pan.
Preheat the oven to 375’. Grate the cheese and toss with flour. Place a baking mat on a 16 1/2 –x-11 1/2-inch sheet pan. Scatter half the cheese evenly over the mat. Shake the pan gently to even the cheese out. Bake 14 to 15 minutes until the cheese is molten and golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Break the crisp into large pieces and arrange on a platter. Wipe off the baking mat and repeat with the remaining cheese.
Want more recipes like this? Check out The Improvisational Cook.