Oatmeal has always been big in my family, and like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, each of us has a distinct way of personalizing his or her bowl.
My mom always adds fruit to her oatmeal; sliced bananas, frozen blueberries, chopped apples and dried apricots are all fair game. Dad prefers steel-cut Irish oats and takes an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to breakfast. He mixes in protein powder for extra nutrition, granola and toasted walnuts for additional texture, and then he’ll add golden raisins as well as whatever leftover fresh fruit Mom has cut up for hers. As kids, my brother and I used our oatmeal as a vehicle for heaping spoonfuls of brown sugar, as that was the one of the few times our nutritionally-conscious mother allowed us to add sugar to our food. I loved the soft consistency of the brown sugar, reminiscent of slightly wet sand on the beach only to melt into dark rivers once it came into contact with the hot steaming porridge in our bowls. My brother is now more of an eggs-and-potatoes man at breakfast so I don’t know how he doctors his oatmeal these days. However, I definitely have something totally new to bring to the table, for I have just discovered the joys of Savory Oatmeal with Parmesan and Olive Oil. Say whaaat?
The springboard for this was a recipe for a savory oatmeal with smoked Gouda cheese that I saw on Stephanie Izard’s blog the other day. I did a double take when I read this, having never considered oatmeal outside of a sweet context. But leave it to Stephanie, the winner of Top Chef Season 4 and one of my all-time favorite contestants in the history of Top Chef. Her recipe indicated that the combination of oatmeal and cheese was not as strange as one might think at first, for as long as the dish stuck to a savory profile, the end result would be similar to grits with cheese. And I couldn’t see anything wrong with that.
I didn’t have Gouda cheese on hand but I did have a crumbly knob of real Parmigiano-Reggiano. I started thinking about pasta dishes finished simply with grated cheese and good extra-virgin olive oil, and it occurred to me that those ingredients might work well in the context of a savory oatmeal too. I began my own riff on this dish, opting to use nutty steel-cut oats as their texture is toothsome and a little chewy, not dissimilar to al dente pasta. A spoonful of peppery olive oil ran like liquid gold over the steaming porridge, which I then topped with a snowfall of freshly grated cheese and a healthy pinch of flaky sea salt. And then, the moment of truth.
Whoa… I think it’s fair to say that I haven’t giggled at breakfast for a while quite the way I did when I tucked into this first bowl of savory steel-cut oats! It was totally satisfying in a most unusual way, for the nuttiness of the cheese beautifully enhanced the oats while the olive oil added richness and tied the flavors all together. I have found a new favorite way to start my mornings with this savory oatmeal, and I’m definitely going to have to make this for my family the next time we’re all together for breakfast.
SAVORY OATMEAL WITH PARMESAN AND OLIVE OIL
Loosely inspired by a recipe by Stephanie Izard
I use Irish steel-cut oats because I love the way their sturdy texture stands up to the bold flavors of the olive oil and cheese. I haven’t tried this with regular oatmeal, though I would suggest using old-fashioned oats rather than quick-cooking or instant oatmeal. I haven’t provided exact quantities for the toppings, as this isn’t so much a recipe rather than a guideline. Let your taste buds guide you. If you are anything like me, you may feel compelled to add more olive oil, cheese and salt as you work your way through the bowl.
4 cups boiling water
1 cup steel-cut oats
Good quality extra-virgin olive oil
A wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano or an aged Gouda, such as Dutch Parrano
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon salt)
Freshly ground pepper
Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in the oats, and then reduce the heat to low. Let the oatmeal simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture has thickened and the water has absorbed.
Divide the oatmeal between four bowls and top with a spoonful of olive oil, a generous grating of cheese, a healthy pinch of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper. Enjoy immediately. Serves 4.