I made dinner the other night. Yes, I’ve been feeling progressively horribler and horribler (sick people get to make up words as they go), but earlier this week I managed to throw a meal together using leftovers from the weekend.
And it was comfort food, after all. Chicken Tetrazzini. Creamy, starchy, warm and comforting.
So I picked all the chicken off the carcass from last Friday’s roast chicken, saving the skin and bones for stock, of course, and I cooked the spaghetti, and I made a bechamel which became the base for the sauce.
But I had no Parmesan. It’s one of the ingredients, though, and what was I going to do? (This is where being sick leads to insanity in the kitchen when things aren’t going the way they should. There’s no room for creativity. Bad Things will happen if you don’t use the Exact Ingredients Called For. Or, at least, that’s how it seems.)
And because I so wanted this to taste right (despite the fact that my taste buds were already working improperly), I caved. Yes, I did.
I went to the pantry and removed the cake pan up on a shelf and there it was.
A small wheel of Parmesan.
That I made in July.
I was planning to age it for at least a year.
But then, when I made that plan, I hadn’t anticipated getting the flu in early November and needing comfort food and being out of Parmesan (and Romano, oh, the shame of it) and feeling like a screaming teakettle about the ABSOLUTE NECESSITY of including grated parm in the recipe.
I took my little wheel of Parmesan into the kitchen, hesitated briefly, then shook my head to clear it and looked around for the proper cutting implement.
Because, you know, Parmesan is pretty dry and hard on the outside. Pretty dry and hard on the inside, too, but the outside, the rind, is a whole different level of impenetrableness.
As I was about to discover.
I have done stupid things with knives in the past. I used a dull knife to slice into a stale bagel and the only successful slice I made was in my finger. I still have that scar. And it was there on the inner aspect of my left index finger, waving at me, calling “Choose the right knife! Don’t lose a limb!”
As it turned out, I tried lots of things. Because this cheese was seriously uncuttable.
I figured out early on that slicing was never an option. I figured maybe if I poked deep holes I could create a fault line and the whole thing would crack into smaller pieces.
What to make the fault line with?
Hey! An ice pick! I pulled out ours and jammed it into a spot on the rind. It went in, but it didn’t want to come out. I had to pull and then twist and pull, but it finally came out and I had one little hole. And not a deep one, either. But it was a start.
Let the frenzy begin.
I poked the ice pick in again, harder, and of course it went deeper this time. And wouldn’t come out. I pulled, I twisted and pulled, I tried rocking the pick back and forth to loosen it, I very nearly threw the whole thing across the kitchen (which might have been the sensible course of action), and I finally succeeded – in pulling the handle off the ice pick.
Yeah, so I had a skinny piece of metal sticking up from the cheese like a mast, and no way to get it out. At least no way I could think of right then and there.
Lots of swear words were used, but they didn’t help either.
So then I went at it with a small, thick-bladed little knife that is about the size of a paring knife but sturdier. I poked and pried and dug until I had a little pit dug in the edge of the cheese.
Well that was another waste of time.
At this point I was getting crazed and frantic. Still had to get the damn ice pick shaft out of the cheese, and I STILL needed to grate a bunch of it for the tetrazzini. Forget about grating the rind. I tried, so you don’t have to.
Finally I got my little pointy knife again and jammed it into the center of the cheese, like I was slicing a pie. I pulled down on it, so the blade would slice in, and then I wiggled it out. I moved the blade down that line, closer to the edge of the wheel, and repeated the procedure. Then I sliced the other side of the wedge. I got about halfway through the cheese this way. A better start, but still not success. My mania was subsiding, and I figured I should take some pictures. I’m sorry I didn’t get a shot of the broken ice pick (which I finally got out somehow and put back together), but you can see the hole AND my pathetic chipped ditch in the picture below:
After I got my basic wedge started, I got a longer bladed knife and repeated the process, until finally, FINALLY, I had a wedge of cheese. Ta da!
Pretty cool, huh?
I know I should have taken better care of this wheel. I should have painted it more frequently with olive oil to keep it from drying out SO much, for instance. And temperature and humidity were not ideal.
I was able to grate the innards.
And my chicken tetrazzini was a success.