Parmesan and provolone are as different as night and day, but both of these cheeses are as important to Italian cuisine as Sophia Loren is to Naples. Parmesan is a cow’s milk cheese that is made in huge wheels and aged for a specific time. Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano is the esteemed Italian version, which by law must be aged for at least a year) is a grana-in-style cheese, which means that it is ideal for grating. However, a current trend in Italian restaurants is to cut (or break) the cheese into chunks and serve it as is alongside a selection of cured meats (salumeria).
One of the finest uses for grated Parmesan is to sprinkle it on top of soups (minestrone, pasta e fagioli) and pizza. Or as a luxury addition to a bowl of steaming pasta, or on top of a salad of mixed greens. Parmesan is an incredibly versatile cheese, one that no Italian restaurant should be without.
Provolone is, too, a cow’s milk cheese, but in character it is much softer, moister and chewier than Parmesan. And in taste it is more piquant than Parmesan. In Italy provolone is aged (piccante indicates a stronger flavor; dolce a milder flavor). Provolone is a pasta filata (pulled or stretched curd) cheese similar to the technique used to make mozzarella.
Unlike Parmesan, provolone cannot be grated, but it takes quite well to shredding. Many pizza restaurants use a blend of mozzarella and provolone as a pizza cheese, a technique that I highly endorse (the sharp flavor of the provolone adds depth of flavor to the mozzarella). And to take that idea one step further, a blend of Parmesan, provolone and mozzarella can add a ton of flavor to any pizza.
Eggplant Parmigiana Pizza
This recipe combines, to great advantage, Parmesan and provolone. I chose to blend the provolone with mozzarella for two reasons: added flavor and a better melt.
Makes one 14-inch pizza
1 14-inch pizza shell
1 eggplant (about 1 pound), washed and sliced into rounds about
1 cup tomato puree or all-purpose ground tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoons dried basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4pound shredded provolone
1/4 pound shredded mozzarella
Place the eggplant slices on a sheet pan and brush lightly with olive oil. Place the pan under the broiler (or in the oven) and cook on each side until the eggplant just starts to take on color. Do not overcook the eggplant; the slices should retain some firmness. Set aside. (Batches can be prepped a day or two ahead.)
In a mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, garlic, oregano, basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread the tomatoes evenly over the crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border all around. Arrange the eggplant slices over the tomatoes. Drizzle the olive oil over the eggplant. Sprinkle on the Parmesan, followed by the provolone and mozzarella.
Bake and serve.