March in the Kitchen – Parmesan Broth

March in the Kitchen – Parmesan Broth

For many years it was thought that there were only four main flavors we can taste; sour, sweet, salty and bitter. Umami is now considered the fifth flavor, coined in 1908 by a chemist at Tokyo University. It’s quality is a meaty or savory taste. Umami is roughly translated as yummy deliciousness. Foods that naturally contain umami include asparagus, tomatoes, cheese, meat, dashi (stock from the seaweed kelp), and mushrooms. Fermented foods such as soy sauce, cheese, cured meats and fish have it in abundance. The chemist was able to pinpoint glutamate, an amino acid, as the main source of this savory wonder. He then learned how to produce it in industrial quantities. We know that product as MSG.

Slow cooking for an extended period will release natural glutamate. Cooked foods with a high umami factor often have layers of taste, a combination of glutamates and a group of chemicals called ribonucleotides (occurring naturally in many foods). When you combine ingredients containing different umami-giving compounds, they enhance each other. Such is the case with Bolognese sauce with cheese on top. In fact, cooked meat, tomato and cheese are a 1-2-3-punch combo. Think pepperoni pizza, I know I do.

Just as humans evolved to crave sweetness and loathe bitter to help avoid toxins, umami is a marker of protein (which is made up of amino acids) essential for life. We are instinctually drawn to it.

Parmesan cheese is very high in umami. Freshly grated Parmesan, added at the end, will elevate a pasta dish to sublime. Search out the best Parmesan you can find, a little goes a long way and you won’t regret it. Keep it in the fridge or freezer and use it as needed, I think you will find lots of uses. Try in on scrambled eggs, or roast vegetables, even on crisp toasted rustic (slightly charred) bread with a drizzle of olive oil.

Then don’t throw out the rinds once you have grated every last bit of cheese! In Italy a Parmesan rind is often tossed into minestrone for extra depth of flavor. Try one in a simple pot of beans, it makes a big difference. I keep a zip top bag in the freezer and collect them until I have enough to make this absolutely fabulous and delicious broth that is bursting with umami.

Parmesan rinds

A Collection of Parmesan Rinds

Let me introduce you to Parmesan Broth, a powerhouse of the fifth flavor. Use it as a versatile stock for soup, or anywhere you need a flavor boost. For vegetarians this broth is a huge flavor enhancer, it closely resembles a long simmered chicken stock. Simply simmering the broth fills your kitchen with the most amazing aroma, I couldn’t resist drinking a mug full once it was finished.

Parmesan Broth (makes 4-6 cups)

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
  • 1 bunch of fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3-4 parsley sprigs
  • 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 lb. of Parmesan rinds
  • 8 cups of water
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, thyme bay leaf, parsley and peppercorns. Cook, stirring often, until the onion and garlic are toasty brown about 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add the wine, bring to a simmer, and cook, scraping up any brown bit until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the Parmesan rinds and 8 cups of water to the saucepan, bring to a boil.
  4. Turn down the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours. Stir occasionally so the rinds don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
  5. Strain through a fine mesh strainer.

Use immediately or store in the fridge up to four days. Freeze for longer storage. This recipe makes a 4-6 cups of stock, depending on how reduced it becomes. You can easily double it if you have more rinds. I don’t salt when making the broth, instead I add salt when it is used.

onion, garlic, thyme, parsley, peppercorns and bayleaf in olive oil

onion, garlic, thyme, parsley, peppercorns and bayleaf in olive oil

Parmesan broth

Parmesan broth cooking

Parmesan Brot

Finished Parmesan Broth, cooling before straining

The finished broth is the most lovely shade of golden yellow!


This recipe was first published in Bon Appetit.

20 essential items for your pantry – Pasta with Butter and Cheese

20 essential items for your pantry – Pasta with Butter and Cheese

It is amazing how many meals you can create if you have the following 20 pantry items on hand. You don’t need a fancy kitchen, pots, or ingredients. Wonderful cooks have been producing four-star “every day” meals with just these staples. If you add good bread, and a few fresh ingredients from the garden (see my post on the 10 plants to grow in pots) you have a feast. Simplify your kitchen and therefore your life.

All of the following 20 will keep well in the pantry or refrigerator. Use them to make quick delicious meals for your family, or guests. I’ll be using all of them in future posts with menu ideas.

  1. Salt – I like grey salt and sea salt for flavoring, having kosher on hand is also nice (keep it close in a jar by your stove)
  2. Onions – brown or white, plus red for salads
  3. Garlic
  4. Fresh ginger
  5. Lemons
  6. Olive oil – extra virgin
  7. Neutral oil such as canola or sunflower or coconut
  8. Butter
  9. Rice wine vinegar
  10. Wine vinegar – red
  11. Dijon mustard
  12. Soy sauce
  13. Coconut milk
  14. Sesame oil
  15. Parmesan cheese (whole piece, not pre-grated, best you can afford)
  16. Dried pasta
  17. Canned tomatoes
  18. Various canned or dried beans
  19. Chocolate bars
  20. Sugar and/or honey

The following classic dish is difficult to beat with only 4 out of the above 20 ingredients.

Picture these two scenarios…you just got home from work, it was a long day with no time to go to the grocery store. The train or bus was late, and traffic was bad. Your family is grouchy and hungry (and you aren’t far behind).

Or, maybe you get a call from an old friend who is in town for just one night. They want to meet your family. There is no time to do anything elaborate and besides, again, you haven’t had time to go grocery shopping. You want to make something delicious and classy but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen.

If you have a well stocked pantry (plus some herbs and greens in pots on the deck, and bread in the freezer) you are in for a gourmet treat.

Relax; pour yourself (and your guests) a glass of wine.


  • French breakfast radishes, sweet putter, flaked salt, crisp baguette
  • Pasta al Burro con Parmigiano: Pasta with Butter and Cheese
  • Salad de la casa 
  • Chocolate bars, assorted types

For the starter: Go out to those herb and veggie filled pots on your deck or patio (or your garden) and pull some radishes (see “10 herbs and veggies you can grow in pots”). Wash them, cut off the root and trim the tops to an 1 inch. On a plate arrange the radishes with some sweet butter and flaked salt. If you have a baguette wrapped in foil in the freezer, it can be ready in 20 minutes. Heat your oven to 400 degrees, place the frozen foil wrapped baguette on a rack and cook for 15 minutes, remove the foil for another 5 minutes to crisp.


This is a classic Italian pasta dish. While living with my family in Rome as an 8 year-old, I lived on it. At that stage of my life Italian food was not my cup of tea, with the exception of Pasta al Burro con Parmigiano. It was standard fare at every restaurant.


Pasta al Burro con Parmigiano: Pasta with Butter and Parmesan Cheese (serves 6-8)

1 lb. pasta of your choice

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for serving

8 tablespoons butter – 1 stick cut into 8 pieces and softened to room temperature (not melted)


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt (kosher) until it tastes like the sea. Add your pasta and cook according to the package directions, tasting to make sure it is done to your liking. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Do not rinse! Dump your pasta back in the hot pot, add the butter and toss until melted, add a little of the hot cooking water if it looks dry, then the cheese and toss again. If the mixture still looks dry, add a bit more cooking water. The cooking water contains starch which turns butter and cheese into a creamy sauce. Don’t add too much as you don’t want it to be watery. Taste to see if it needs more salt. Turn into a warm serving bowl or individual plates. Grate some cheese on the top.

Serve with extra cheese on the side.

Olive oil can be substituted for the butter. This is the basic version, you could add fresh herbs, a few chili flakes, a handful of frozen peas (defrosted), some toasted breadcrumbs, toasted nuts, etc. Need some meat? What about crumbled crisp bacon, slices of Italian sausage browned in olive oil, or left over rotisserie chicken. Let your imagination go wild! But, this dish is delicious just as it is, with only good butter and cheese.

Fix a salad from your pots, make a simple vinaigrette.

Salad pickings from the garden

For dessert pull out those chocolate bars, break them into pieces, put them on a pretty plate, serve with pride.


Pasta, salad, bread, chocolate…dinner, perfecto!

What’s in your own pantry is considered an essential?