Cheese crisps, those incredibly lacy, crisp, and tasty wafers that some restaurants tuck into a bread basket, use to decorate a salad, or sit beside a bowl of soup look so hard to make, but are actually simple.
The hard part is figuring out what to call them and what their origin might be. Some people call them frico, and some people call them parmesan crisps. Some sources say that “frico” comes from the Friulian language spoken in Friuli Venezia Giulia, an autonomous region in northeast Italy. Its capital is Trieste, and it stretches from the sea to some of the most beautiful mountains in Italy. It is the part of Italy where Italian, Slavic, and Austrian cultures have bumped against one another for centuries. Some say that “frico” means little trifle in Italian, but there is no such entry in my Italian-English dictionary.
Some sources say that frico is similar to the Swiss rösti, a crisp, savory dish made of potatoes and cheese. In particular the cheese is supposed to be Montasio or Asiago cheese. Lidia Bastianich has a recipe on her website, lidiasitaly.com.
There are several recipes for frico/parmesan crisp on the web by various celebrity cooks, and Martha Stewart has one for cheddar crisps. Some cooks add chopped herbs, seeds, and other flavorings, so you can do just about whatever you want to and still call it a frico (Shouldn’t the plural be frici? That is more fun to say.)
To add to the complication, Montasio may be hard to find where you live. Our cheese monger didn’t have any. And even then you have to make a decision because Montasio comes in three versions depending upon its age. The cheese is made from raw cow’s milk, and that may explain why it is hard to find in this country. Younger cheeses have a soft paste that doesn’t lend itself to crisping. The middle-aged cheese is firmer and might work, but you really want the fully aged cheese.
Undoubtedly availability is one of the reasons that most American recipes call for freshly grated Parmesan. At first, I was a bit dismayed by Martha Stewart’s suggestion to use cheddar. Then I started to play around with various cheeses in my stocks. I had some leftover Mexican cheese that I had used for my green chicken chilaquiles. I was surprised and pleased to learn that it made a very acceptable frico.
Another source of disagreement is whether to mix the grated cheese with a little bit of flour. Some think the flour makes the crisp too doughy and soft. I think it helps to absorb the fat that is released when the cheese melts. Do whatever you want.
Finally, there is the bake-them-in-the-oven school of thought and the cook-them-on-a-hot-skillet persuasion. I favor the latter because I think it gives me more control of the process, but again, choose your own pathway.
In view of the short list of ingredients and the even shorter process, all of this is probably a lot more than you want to know about fricos (Or is it frici?) Whatever, you are bound to enjoy these crispy trifles; guaranteed they will disappear quickly from a buffet table.
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (coarse or fine depending on the texture you desire)
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- Combine the grated cheese and flour
- If you are making the fricos on a skillet, heat a dry, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Spread about one tablespoonful of the cheese mixture in a circle about 3-4 inches across. Press down. Heat until the frico is lightly browned on the bottom. Turn over and brown the other side. Remove to paper towelling to cool.
- If you are baking the fricos in the oven, preheat the oven to 400°F. Spread tablespoonful-sized circles of the cheese mixture on a silicone-lined baking sheet. Do not crown. Press down. Bake for 3 to 5 minutes or until the fricos are lightly browned and crisp. Cool on paper towelling.