Splendid Table: A cheese by another name

Try this alternative to the more pricey Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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Hand-dipped ricotta.

Q What can I use on pasta instead of Parmigiano-Reggiano? Sadly, this cheese cannot fit into my budget anymore. My big problem is, I am a purist. I don't want fake Parmigiano (don't tell me to try domestic and the stuff from Argentina -- they're revolting), so where can I go to get a "right" and inexpensive cheese for my pastas?

A Never would I drive you to those cheeses you so dislike. Nothing equals Parmigiano-Reggiano when it's good; there's a reason why it is called one of the handful of great cheeses on the planet.

So instead of searching for what doesn't exist -- a duplicate -- try a slight mind shift and think about what kind of cheese you want with a particular pasta dish.

For instance, vegetable- or meat-based pastas can take a Parmigiano wannabe that echoes some of its savoriness, nutlike qualities and full flavor. A couple of relatively inexpensive domestic cheeses work here -- Fontinella by Stella, and an Asiago. Vela Dry Jack from California is worth a try, too, but it can be expensive.

If you are having a spicy tomato sauce, those the Fontinella or Asiago will work with it, but you could go in a completely different direction and use fresh ricotta as a foil for the sauce. It's a good idea for sauces with a lot of punch and spice. Polly-O is a good national brand.

The recipe for Sicilian Shepherd's Tomato Pasta is one of our all-time favorite recipes; I first tasted it with two Sicilian shepherds. They'd just finished making their Sunday-morning ricotta, had reheated the pasta from the night before and shared it with me, as they ladled the warm, new ricotta over the noodles.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper hosts "The Splendid Table" radio show from American Public Media, and is co-author of "The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper." Reach her at www.splendidtable.org.

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