Frico: It's a New / Old Way to Enjoy Cheese
You say cheese crisps, we say 14 inventive excuses to indulge in the cheesy deliciousness known as frico
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While you may not think you’ve heard of the culinary delight known as frico, you've undoubtedly encountered this mouthwatering treat in one form or another over the years. Think of it as the Italian version of cheese crisps, made from an airy web of pure, toasty melted shredded cheese.
What's especially fun about this rustic delicacy is that there's more than one way to make it. While round discs are the best known, frico is easily malleable when hot and can be shaped into edible cups or bowls, or used as a garnish to add nutty texture to sandwiches and even mac and cheese. There's also a soft (and more classic) version — a thicker, heartier frico that combines cheese with onions and potatoes for a meal on its own.
Ready to get creative with this oh-so-delicious treat? Here’s how to start adding a little frico to your day.
What is frico? At its most basic, frico is a thin, crispy, and addictive wafer of melted cheese — traditionally Montasio, a creamy, semi-hard cow's cheese from the mountains of Friuli in northeast Italy, where frico originated, though other cheeses such as Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, cheddar, and even mozzarella work well, too.
How do you make frico? Start with freshly shredded cheese. It melts more easily than pre-shredded, as it doesn’t contain anti-caking ingredients (or preservatives) as the pre-packaged stuff does. You can bake or pan-fry the cheese. To bake, line a sheet pan with a silicone mat or parchment paper, arrange even rounds of shredded cheese on top, and bake at 375° or 400° until melted, about 6 minutes. On the stovetop, make 1 or 2 rounds of shredded cheese at a time in a nonstick frying pan and cook over medium-low heat until golden and melted, turning once, about 2 minutes total.
How do you make cheddar frico? While cheddar may not be traditional for frico, there’s a lot to love about its flavor when toasted and melted. In the Cheddar Frico recipe that follows, Martha Stewart recommends tossing the shredded cheese with a little all-purpose flour before melting it on the stovetop as noted above, which will help keep all that wonderful fat from melting away.
This recipe for thin Parmesan frico is as basic as it gets: Just spoon small, bite-sized mounds of shredded Parmesan cheese onto a baking sheet covered with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and then slip them into a 375° oven until crispy (about 6 minutes). The result is delicate, lacy cheese wafers that make a great snack or low-carb cracker substitute, and can be eaten on their own or dunked in soup or marinara.
One of the really fun things about frico is that you can mold it into different shapes — including edible bowls — when it's still hot from the oven, which is an easy way to elevate any meal. This recipe starts with the simple Roman dish called Cacio e Pepe, which means cheese and pepper in Italian: spaghetti topped with grated, sharp and salty Pecorino Romano cheese and fresh cracked black pepper. (If you can’t find Pecorino Romano, a sheep's milk cheese, Asiago is a good substitute.) What makes the recipe extra-special is you bake up circles of shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano, and as soon as they're out of the oven, use a spatula to drape each onto an overturned cereal bowl. Voilà! You've got yourself some temporary and very tasty individual serving bowls.
If you make just one of these addictive cheddar crisps at once on the stovetop, you’ll have time to drape them over a rolling pin while they’re still malleable to shape them into beautiful tuiles.
Grilled cheese is the epitome of comfort food, but this recipe takes it one step further with a layer of thin Parmigiano-Reggiano frico atop the bread, adding a whole new element of texture and cheesiness. You can really get creative with this one by using varying kinds of bread (thick slices of soft white bread known as Texas toast, sourdough, etc.) and cheese for the sandwich's interior, and adding ingredients like tomatoes, bacon, and/or caramelized onions. But it's the frico on the outside that truly makes this grilled cheese one-of-a-kind.
Heirloom tomatoes are often bright and colorful as well as extra-flavorful, and easily liven up any dish. But place them in baked Parmesan frico cups (each one molded in a muffin tin) and you've got yourself an Instagrammable summer salad like no other. For the most eye-catching look, choose heirloom cherry tomatoes in assorted greens, oranges, reds, maroons, yellows, and reds. Foodie Crush suggests adding red peppers and capers for a bit of Mediterranean flavor, and sprinkling the tomato salad with crumbles of goat cheese before serving.
How perfect is frico as a substitute for hard taco shells? Soo perfect! Especially when it's tacos for breakfast. Kids will especially love these: frico wafers that you’ve molded into the shape of hard tacos using aluminum foil, and then topped with eggs and whatever foods you like. Think refried beans, last night's leftover chicken or steak, even some freshly cooked breakfast sausages. Add some salsa, sour cream, and/or guacamole on the side and you've got yourself the ultimate taco feast.
Soft frico is a much more substantial food than its thin frico counterpart, and one that can be compared to an omelet or creamy, decadent potatoes au gratin. It's ideal for when the weather's a bit cooler, or when you're looking for a dinner that's simple to make and doesn't require a lot of ingredients. All you need here are a couple of medium-sized russet potatoes, a yellow onion, some spices, and a good cup and a half of Parmesan cheese (go for Parmigiano-Reggiano if you can). The key trick is to pan-fry the overall “pie” so that it’s crispy on the exterior but remains soft on the inside, allowing for a lovely melt-in-your-mouth texture with each bite.
Though similar to the Heirloom Tomato Caprese Frico Cups above, this recipe features a few significant changes. First, the frico cups are smaller (the size of mini muffins) and are cooked on the stovetop in a nonstick skillet, rather than baked, the advantage being that you have more time to mold each individual cup, instead of having them all come out of the oven at once. Also, the balsamic vinegar plays a big role in this dish, adding a concentrated and intense flavor that really makes the cherry tomatoes “pop.” In lieu of Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano, consider using gruyere or a sharp cheddar to mix things up.
Here's an innovative summer salad that's enticing in every way, from the sweet and tender Black Mission figs (in season from mid-June through mid-September) to the Parmesan fricos, which take the place of croutons. The fricos add a nutty flavor and crunchy texture to a wonderful combination that includes chopped walnuts, fresh spinach, and generous prosciutto, rolled into rose shapes. Drizzle with the homemade fig balsamic vinaigrette for a picture-perfect dish.
Frico can be used in ways other than as bowls and wafers: It’s also a superb seasoning for baked fries. Simply slice up some russet potatoes into thick wedges, pop them into a hot oven for 30 minutes, then sprinkle them with shredded Parmesan and lots of pepper, and return them to the oven. After about 4 minutes, the Parmesan will bake into a crispy, golden crust that offers a whole new take on cheesy goodness.
Another salad that's perfect for warm weather days, this recipe combines ripe avocado, jumbo shrimp, and grilled zucchini, all tossed with a homemade honey mustard dressing (or your favorite store-bought) and garnished with a Parmesan frico chip. Serve them as an appetizer, or double the portions for a light main course that's especially good chilled.
These mini frico cups filled with herbed, whipped goat cheese are a pure treat for cheese lovers, especially when served with a glass (or two) of a refreshing sparkling wine. Sarah 'n Spice also suggests replacing the mousse with tiny Caesar salads as an alternative frico-based appetizer.
Break out the Dutch oven or a stockpot for this hearty vegetarian combination of seasonal veggies. Quinoa and canned chickpeas provide substance and protein. While the recipe only calls for one thin mozzarella frico atop each bowl, I suggest going as frico-wild as you like. After all, you can never have too much cheese.
Don't miss this especially inventive take on the Italian dish saltimbocca — traditionally a combination of veal or chicken cutlets, prosciutto, and fresh sage in a white wine sauce — which subs in lean ground turkey breast for the meat and a seasoned mayo aioli as the “sauce.” A layer of crispy pancetta —aka “Italian bacon”— and a delicate Parmesan frico add a further bit of crunchy texture to the burgers. Pair them with the Black Pepper + Parmesan Frico Potato Wedges for guaranteed frico delishness.