Menu Development
Cheese Primer: Pecorino Romano and Romano
By Pasquale "Pat" Bruno

Some clarification on Pecorino Romano and Romano is in order. A true pecorino Romano is made from Sheep's milk (pecorino translates as "little sheep") and comes from an area around Rome (though pecorino is made in many regions of Italy). Romano made in this country is made with cow's milk.

Pecorino Romano, which is indispensable for cooking in the southern part of Italy, is a hard, compact cheese that is used mainly for grating. It is straw-white in color and has a hearty, piquant flavor along with a brittle, crumbly texture. Pecorino Romano generally undergoes a minimum of eight months curing in cool, damp cellars known as "cascine" in Italian. The more mature pecorinos are used for grating, while the younger pecorinos are great eaten straightaway with salami, bread and olives.

Romano made in this country does indeed have a sharp flavor, albeit not nearly as sharp as a true pecorino Romano. Since it is made from cow's milk, the flavor is milder and more agreeable to the American palate. Price notwithstanding (pecorino Romano carries a much higher price tag), many people find the sharp and aggressive flavor of a pecorino Romano too much to deal with.

The usage involved in either cheese is quite varied. I find that sprinkling grated Romano over the tomatoes on a pizza before it goes into the oven adds immensely to the overall flavor. I find that a mixture of grated Parmesan and grated Romano (three parts Parmesan to one part Romano) gives a pesto sauce the depth and character that it needs. I find that the sharp flavor of grated Romano is just the ticket for enhancing the flavor of homemade meatballs.

Here is an excellent recipe for a potato tart that uses Romano (or Pecorino Romano) cheese. This tart is perfect to serve as part of a lunch menu or lunch buffet when combined with a green salad (a slice and a salad). It should be served at room temperature or slightly warm.


Makes 1 9-inch tart (can be scaled up in direct proportion)

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk, heated to simmering

3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon ground pepper

1/3 cup freshly grated Romano or Pecorino Romano cheese

1 cup Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

Peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters. Boil until tender. Drain and mash. Add the butter, salt and heated milk. Mix thoroughly. Beat the mixture until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, pepper and Romano cheese. Beat to combine.

Brush a 9-inch x 2-inch-deep cake pan (or deep-dish pizza pan) lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle the bottom and side with 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs. Shake out the excess.

Transfer the potato mixture to the cake pan. Smooth the top with a spatula. Brush the top of the torta with olive oil. Spread the remaining bread crumbs evenly over the top. Bake the torta in a preheated 375 F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Invert the torta onto a large plate. Let cool for about an hour before cutting into wedges.

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