On Sunday, Colin and I hosted his boss Anthony and partner Anne-Claire for dinner, to return the favor after the eventful evening at their place a couple weeks ago. Now, cooking is pretty much my least favorite household chore; I would much rather clean bathrooms and vacuum every day of the week than spend more than 30 minutes making a meal. In this respect, France is perfect for me because it is 100% socially acceptable to just eat bread, cheese, and salami for dinner, no pots or pans required.
Fortunately, I married a man who thinks cooking is fun. And to be honest, it’s not awful (maybe even kind of fun?) to assist Colin as sous-chef.
In any case, I left Sunday’s menu planning up to him, and what he came up with was truly Pinterest-worthy: arugula salads in parmesan baskets served with head-on shrimp and lemon aioli, followed by mussels in a lemon-white wine sauce and crusty baguette. With gelato for dessert.
After hitting nine different stores – a wine shop, cheese shop, boulangerie, seafood market, produce market, gelateria, an olive oil shop that ended up being closed, and two supermarkets in search of high quality olive oil and sea salt – we were finally ready to start cooking. (Luckily this is France so all those stores are within a few blocks of each other.) And, truth be told, our meal prep had gotten easier because we had been transfixed by the beautiful red pre-cooked shrimp at the seafood market and bought them instead of the gray uncooked shrimp that we didn’t even notice until it was too late. A rookie mistake, for sure, and not even one that we could blame on our language skills.
So it turned out that the only things we really had to make in advance were those fancy parmesan baskets. All these smiling women on YouTube insisted that they were easy, requiring only three steps: (1) sprinkle grated parmesan on the bottom of a medium-hot nonstick skillet, (2) flip the cheese when it becomes golden brown, then (3) drape the hot cheese over a glass or bowl and pat it with a paper towel to form the desired shape.
Tellingly, these videos all skipped over the details of Step 2. From our experience, I’m pretty sure Step 2 requires a dash of magic because Colin ended up scraping our first two attempts off the skillet into lumps more reminiscent of bricks than baskets.
With those two bricks of cheese cooling on the counter, Colin and I exchanged wary glances and turned back to YouTube to see if anyone (anyone? anyone?) had practical advice for how to make this work. Eventually we came up with two options: we could either buy a new nonstick pan since the one in our apartment was presumably old and possibly not actually nonstick anymore, or we could buy parchment paper to place on the skillet under the cheese to render flipping and scraping unnecessary. Colin headed back to the store to hedge our bets and buy both while I grated more parmesan.
I am THRILLED to announce that parchment paper did the trick. If you ever want to make parmesan baskets (which actually are easy), ignore all those cheery women on YouTube and do it this way:
- Grate the parmesan. Longer pieces are better because they’re more likely to overlap and melt together.
- Use any skillet you want on medium-high heat.
- Place a large square of parchment paper on the hot skillet (large enough so that the edges of the paper extend past the edges of the skillet), and sprinkle a handful of grated parmesan in a circle on top of the paper.
- Wait a minute or two until the cheese is melty and the edges are golden brown.
- Lift up the entire piece of parchment paper, with the cheese on top, and flip it over a glass or bowl so that the cheese is draped over the dish.
- The parchment paper will be hot because it literally just came off the stove, so use a paper towel or a second piece of paper to press it down against the glass, helping form the cheese into a basket shape.
- Wait a few minutes until the paper and cheese are cool enough to handle, then remove the parchment paper (it will be oily from the cheese, so it comes right up), and put your parmesan basket on a plate to finish cooling. Voilà! Bon appétit!
But even though that’s the end of the parmesan baskets (they truly only take minutes if you do the parchment paper thing), that’s not quite the end of this story because our meal wouldn’t be ready until we’d made another couple trips to the store. After all the parmesan shenanigans, we realized we were low on dish soap, probably because our entire kitchen was coated in melted cheese after trying no fewer than two skillets, two spatulas, two cheese graters, and four bowls in hopes of making it work. We’d also forgotten to buy tomatoes for the salads. So while Colin started cleaning mussels, I ran to the nearest supermarket, which had dish soap but no cherry tomatoes. I walked a few blocks farther to the next one, which had seven varieties to choose from.
Number of stores visited for this meal: Twelve.
Number of times we’ve used our new skillet since buying it: Zero.
Number of parmesan baskets successfully created: Four.