Yotam Ottolenghi’s Parmesan Rind Hack Adds Tons of Flavors to Nearly Any Dish

Celebrity chefs aren’t always known for their practicality. That’s especially true if you’re an everyday at-home cook who doesn’t have access to the specialty shops, high-end kitchens,  unusual ingredients — think dried fermented scallops or caul fat, as seen on cooking show Chopped — or big budgets that these chefs are accustomed to. And sometimes, a celebrity chef’s advice seems out of touch and turns off readers (the cookbooks by Al Roker and Kris Jenner are prominent examples).  

But occasionally, the culinary stars align and celebrity chefs come through with a kitchen hack or cooking strategy that anyone can use in their own kitchen. In a recent interview, Israeli-British cooking star Yotam Ottolenghi did exactly that, revealing a secret way that he recycles the unwanted part of Parmesan cheese and uses it to cut costs but not cut flavor.

Ottolenghi’s career started in philosophy and not in cooking

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Before he became a famous chef, Ottolenghi was focused on earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in literature. According to the New Yorker, Ottolenghi was just finishing writing his master’s thesis on “the ontological status of the photographic image in aesthetic and analytic philosophy” when he had an epiphany.

“He slipped a note into the envelope [that held his thesis] which read, ‘Here is my dissertation. I’ve decided to take a break from academia and go to cooking school,'” reports the New Yorker. “A few months later, he was in London, rolling puff pastry at the Cordon Bleu.” 

After training at Le Cordon Bleu, which is an international chain of culinary schools designed around French cuisine, Ottolenghi began working as a pastry chef. From there, his celebrity stature began to grow.

His first cookbook, which simply bore his last name, was released in 2008. “[It] turned into a surprise bestseller, with over 100,000 copies sold,” notes the Jerusalem Post.

To date, Ottolenghi has published eight cookbooks, appeared in numerous TV specials (including serving as a judge on Masterchef Australia), and opened several award-winning restaurants.

Ottolenghi loves to see ingredients in a different light

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While each of the recipes in his cookbooks are dramatically different, there’s one common thread that ties together all of Ottolenghi’s culinary approaches.

“Ottolenghi’s basic strategy about cooking is to constantly experiment,” explains the Post. For example, he likes to take one ingredient and use it in an unusual way to add different flavors to a meal. “With an acknowledged focus on Mediterranean food traditions, he uses bold flavors and daring colors,” adds the Post. “His favorite ingredients are ‘noisy’ – lemon, pomegranate, garlic and chili.”

In his most recent cookbook, 2020’s Ottolenghi FLAVOUR, recipes include spicy mushroom lasagne, creative dumplings, and even miso butter onions.

Miso (a fermented soybean ingredient) on onions? Spicy mushrooms in a lasagne? They’re trademark examples of how Ottolenghi likes to take one ingredient and use it in a different manner.

And parmesan cheese, or specifically the rind of the cheese, isn’t exempt from the Ottolenghi approach.

Ottolenghi has a secret kitchen hack that requires a Parmesan rind

Portrait of Israeli-British chef, Yotam Ottolenghi, photographed at Fred's in Paddington, where he was the guest for a Good Food reader event.
Yotam Ottolenghi | James Brickwood

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When you buy real, authentic parmesan cheese, it comes in a big wheel and not as the pre-grated powder-like substance that you normally see on the shelves of most North American grocery stores. “The rind is a protective layer that develops on the outside of the cheese wheel as it ages,” explains Eataly.

The rind naturally forms when the cheese is placed in its traditional brine, where the cheese soaks in water and sea salt for three weeks. Often, chefs and at-home cooks toss out the rind when they’ve used up all the Parmesan cheese. But not Ottolenghi.

In an interview with People, the celebrity chef says he likes to save the rind and add it to other foods, such as soups and stews. “It’s a quick and cheap way to add lots of flavor with minimum effort,” he explains.

He points out that as the rind melts, it “permeates the dish with its cheesy, umami characteristic.”