I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain

Sunday, August 30, 2009

That's amoré

There is not a drop of Italian in me but pasta has always been a major food group at my house. One of the other major food groups is Stuff That Goes on Top. And Parmigiano Reggiano from real live cows was at the top of that group for most of my adult life, and as far as I'm concerned is still one of the seven wonders of the world.

When I decided that cows really don't exist just for my pleasure (even though I'm not dairy-free yet), a great sorrow came over my heart. Or something like that. Because I adore Parmigiano Reggianno. And because cows can produce a basic raw ingredient that becomes a wonder of the world, and we can't (Mt. Rushmore and the Sphinx wish they could compete). When considering dairy cheese, and especially the crown jewel of dairy cheese, we may manipulate the main ingredient, yes, but face it, the cow is the star player.

So we flail away, flying in the face of all reason and attempting the impossible even though we know it's absurd. Meat alternatives are not nearly as much of a problem, and other non-dairy cheeses are getting close, but vegan parm remains an elusive holy grail.

But cheer up! Maybe we'll never reach the level of accomplishment of cows, cheese-wise, but we can still crank out a darn good sprinkle now and again. I've been making a simple nuts-and-nutri-yeast combo as a Parmesan stand-in for a couple of years, and frankly, have been pretty happy with it. Tweaking being in the blood though, every batch is preceded by much web-surfing.

The latest tweak included just a bit of citric acid (find it with the canning supplies at your grocer), which I hadn't used before, and I think it's now going to be a standard ingredient. Another site I looked at recommends powdered lemon juice instead of citric acid, but since I don't keep that around I haven't tried it. Dried lemon peel, finely ground, I do keep around, and would probably work as well, so that might replace the citric acid, if that's all you have.

Sesame seeds also went in with the nuts (cashews and pine nuts) in this last batch. The sesame component I'm not so sure about. It was equal parts cashews, pine nuts, and sesame seeds, and I think it was a little too bitter due to the sesame. It was OK, and I'll eat up every bit, but it was not my fave. It's possible the seeds are starting to go south- they've been refrigerated the whole time, but I can't remember when I bought them. However I think it's mostly got to do with the nature of sesame seeds.

Sweetness, such as what you get with cashews and almonds, should be a forward flavor in parm, not bitterness (although you do want an 'edge'). So the latest batch looks like the following recipe. I've added a little miso powder for some tang and 'fermentedness'. I bought mine online but see the next link in this post for a method of drying readily available miso paste to a powder; this is what I will do when my current stock runs out.

Bryanna Clark Grogan includes miso in this recipe, which also uses okara from making soy milk. The Galaxy brand has a soy base for its parm, so Bryanna's okara base should be similar. It's also not as yellow-y as the more nutri-yeast-based toppings, either, so may appeal more to the unwashed masses (i.e., the vegan-fearful).

So, in the spirit of the myriad cutely named commercial parmesan alternatives on the market, I have dubbed mine "Parmenon". Cheesy, huh?

Grated Parmenon Topping
(a.k.a. That's Amoré Sprinkle)

1½ cups nutritional yeast flakes
¾ cup finely ground almonds, cashews, or walnuts, or a combination
2 tsp. salt, to taste
1½ tsp. miso powder, or to taste (optional, try it at least once)
1 tsp. onion granules, or to taste
½ tsp. garlic granules, or to taste
¼ tsp. citric acid

Process or pulse all ingredients in a blender or food processor until thoroughly combined. Adjust seasonings to taste. I tend to be conservative with miso; others may like it a little more assertive. This really adds a rich note to lean or hearty pasta dishes, but I also love it sprinkled on steamed veggies and/or baked potatoes.

Note: this quantity fits snugly in a 1 lb. recycled glass peanut butter jar.

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