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The Miracle of Crispy Cheese

Thoughts on frico and Ali Slagle’s recipe for cauliflower with Parmesan.

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By Melissa Clark

Back in the ’90s there was a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan called Frico Bar, which specialized in the eponymous crispy cheese wafer from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy. The restaurant was only a few steps from The Times’s office, and my editor took me there when I was still a fresh-faced freelancer. My first frico was an epiphany. A nibble brought forth a combination of the browned corners of a casserole, the seared Cheddar that oozes from a grilled cheese sandwich, and the singed strands of mozzarella stuck to a pizza pan. That one bite turned my culinary world upside down.

Ali Slagle’s latest recipe for cauliflower with crispy Parmesan (above) brings that experience rushing back to me in a simple but brilliant side dish. It would go nicely with her rosemary-paprika chicken, roasted on a sheet pan. To merge the chicken and frico into one pan, you could whip up Dawn Perry’s crispy frico chicken breasts with mushrooms, or my crispy Parmesan roast chicken with lemon. Putting the egg before the bird, there’s my recipe for crispy Parmesan fried eggs. And for cheese cracker purists: Ali’s cacio e pepe frico is unmitigated crunch seasoned with a peppery bite.

Not feeling frico-y? Noodles are their floppy textural opposites. Hetty McKinnon has a fantastic new weeknight recipe for soy sauce noodles with fried eggs and cabbage, based on a Cantonese classic. Or try Hetty’s dumpling noodle soup, its steaming broth fragrant with garlic, ginger and turmeric.

Here’s another idea for your soup pot. Last weekend, I riffed on David Tanis’s excellent clam chowder with spinach and dill, substituting blanched kale for the spinach, chorizo for the bacon, and skipping the crème fraîche entirely. (Was it really the same recipe? I don’t know, but it was delightful.) Then, for dessert, we had Tracy K. Smith’s poundcake, made exactly according to the recipe, and wow, was that a good meal. The leftovers are calling to me now.

To access these, and all of our thousands of other recipes, you’ll need a subscription. You can also find us on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, where Ham El-Waylly makes the case for cooking bacon in the oven, and I’m completely with him. (The recipe is here, and I use parchment instead of foil.) If you need technical help, you can email us at [email protected] And I’m at [email protected], if you want to get in touch.

Now, whoever dreamed up frico was an artist at the stove, but the art of food can be very different from food in art. Dutch still lifes, for example, use food to make elaborate statements about the world. The same could be said for Meret Oppenheim, who in the 20th century used ideas about food to incisive effect. Her pump poultry (“My Nurse,” 1936), furry teacup (“Object,” 1936) and suggestive chess piece on a plate (“Bon appétit, Marcel!,” 1966) all use unpredictable ingredients to dazzling effect. For The Times, Roberta Smith wrote about a marvelous retrospective of Oppenheim’s work at MoMA through March 4, and you can browse the exhibition virtually here. Let her turn your world upside down.

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