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Making a Cheese Basket
A cheese basket is a bowl or dish made out of cheese that you can fill with pasta (with a not-too-liquid sauce), risotto, gnocchi, or even stew.
Cheese baskets are easy to make, and make a beautiful presentation; they're nice for a change of pace and perfectly suited to a romantic occasion. Here we have a cheese basket filled with risotto, made by Mirko Margheri, Chef of Florence's Ristorante Oliviero (in Via delle Terme, behind Santa Trinita).Continue to 2 of 10 below.
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Making a Cheese Basket: What You'll Need
To make a cheese basket you need a burner, cheese, a pristine non-stick frying pan about 9 inches/22 centimeters in diameter, a pair of Teflon tongs that won't scratch the frying pan, and a cup or bowl to lay the cheese over.
If the pan is pristine, you won't need either butter or oil to keep the cheese from sticking.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
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Making a Cheese Basket: The Cheese?
Mirko uses moderately aged (18 months) Parmigiano or Grana Padano, but any firm grating cheese will work, including Montasio, aged pecorino Sardo or Toscano, or pecorino Romano (what's known as Romano in the US).
What's important is that the cheese not be overly moist, or be filante—i.e. a cheese that strings out when heated, along the lines of Mozzarella, Jack, or Fontina.
Mirko says that grateable goat's milk cheeses work especially well because of their fat content.
You'll need about 65 grams of grated cheese, which translates into about 1 1/4 cups, or a couple of handfuls; after you've made a few cheese baskets you'll simply go by eye.
Mirko notes that you can add flavorings to the cheese, provided they not be too moist: Poppy seeds, for example, or red pepper flakes, or even finely minced parsley.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
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Making a Cheese Basket: Sprinkle the Cheese
Heat the skillet over a medium flame for 2 to 3 minutes. You want it to be hot but not searing. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the pan.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Making a Cheese Basket: By the Time You're Done Sprinkling...
By the time you have finished sprinkling the cheese it will have begun to melt, especially around the edges.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
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Making a Cheese Basket: Continue Heating, And When it Begins to Brown...
Around the edges, use the tongs to separate the cheese a little from the sides of the pan.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
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Making a Cheese Basket: The Middle Will Begin to Tan
Another few seconds and the cheese in the middle of the pan will begin to tan. You don't want it to brown but simply color some.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Making a Cheese Basket: Drape the Cheese
At this point, tip the skillet so the cheese flows out, it will come as a sheet, and drape it, browned side up, over a bowl or cup.
Mirko used a round straight-sided cup 2 inches/5 centimeters in diameter and about the same high, but you can use any shape you want. The sheet will set in about 15 seconds, at which point you can lift it off the cup.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
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Making a Cheese Basket: Done!
The first basket's done, and now you can make the next.
In terms of time required, you'll need 3 to 4 minutes per basket.
What to fill them with? A few suggestions:
- Gnocchi con Carciofi e Noci: Artichokes and walnuts go well with gnocchi (and cheese).
- Risotto ai Funghi Porcini: With Porcini (or other wild) mushrooms.
- Risotto per i Malcontenti: A risotto that will make even the most malcontent smile.