Here is a tip. If you spot an unfamiliar object, just make assumptions about its purpose. Do not allow curiosity to get the better of you. There is no need to dig deeper by searching for a label or, say, seeking out someone more knowledgeable. When finally stumbling upon its true purpose, you can sit back and reflect on how you wished you knew about it sooner. Give it a try. It works with people too. “Wow, after all of this time I thought you were a grumpy ass but you turned out to be a really fun person to hang out with!”
For months, I assumed this little dimpled plate on a shelf in a cookware shop was for cooking or serving quail eggs. Use it to serve hard-boiled or soft-boiled eggs? Butter and fill each dimple with a whole raw egg and bake in the oven? Does it not look somewhat like a ceramic tray for holding eggs? Well, that is what I thought and, having no interest in any of that, I held onto those assumptions. Stupid of me, I know.
Call it luck or fate but I was able to see similar plates in action not once but twice recently on a couple of cooking shows while flipping through the channels. After mentioning just that and judging from of these photos, I’m sure you can guess that they were not filled with tiny spotted eggs but with glorious cheese. Yes, on both shows the dimples were filled with cubed cheese -provoleta on one and pategras on another- and the plates were then placed on top of hot parrilla grills. While both shows used grills as the means to melt the cheese, I imagine this type of plate was primarily designed for the oven. I mean how many times do you see glazed ceramic plates designed as grill cookware? Anyway, it works fine on the grill and, as these shows were pointing out, it is a nice alternative to the typical methods of cooking and serving provoleta on or off the grill.
As you can see in the photos, I picked up a plate with 19 dimples although there were plates with about half as many for sale as well. Looking back, I should have bought at least two of the smaller plates. They seem like a much better option for the often precious real estate that is needed on both the parrilla and at the table.
Now, as is it should be obvious, the best provoleta is a crispy smokey disk right off the grill rack but for the average home asador that is not always an easy task. Provoleta, or provolone parrillera, varies from brand to brand. Some can keep it together while others easily fall through the cracks. Plus, devoting a section of the grill to the heat needed to quickly crispen the cheese can throw off the organization of everything else if you are cooking a lot of meat. So, the next option is to use a special provoletera pan or refractory ware to place over coals, on the grill or stovetop, or in the oven. You lose the smokiness of cooking directly over coals with no other obstacle in between but there is less chance of an accident and you get the added benefit of using stuffing material.
I see these plates as going a step further than using a simple provoletera pan and easing the task of serving. One disk of provoleta can be a bit too much for some and slicing into portions essentially creates a balled up mass of melted cheese. With these, you only need to plop the plates on the table and have the diners scoop them out with little forks or skewers. Although stuffing is a bit out of the question, toppings do work wonderfully well.
How To Prepare
Simply cut the provoleta disks* into small cubes, about 2 cm. Place two into each dimple. No need to oil the dish first, provoleta cheese provides plenty of that! If you want the cheese to be crispy all around then cook in a oven. For the bottom only, use the grill. Cooking time and temp? This is something that is best left to good common sense and subjectivity. Around medium high heat for the oven and grill, if you really need advice. Serve anywhere from when they are just melted to when you can cleanly pull out a piece with a toothpick.
When ready, serve as is or top with any of the following: herbs (oregano, basil, thyme, etc.), chili flakes/powder (hot, sweet, or smoked), crispy bacon, cubed ham, roasted red peppers, or olives. Or use your imagination and think of it as an Argentinean spinoff of a raclette party grill.
*Substitute with any semi-hard cheese.