Parma ham is one of my favourite delicacies, so when invited to a ‘cook and dine’ event centred around this wonderful food I didn’t hesitate in letting the organisers know that I would be there!
A tube strike in full swing on the evening didn’t deter many and a warm welcome from the organisers, a glass or two of Prosecco along with nibbles of the wafer thin ham and small canapés soon made us forget about the struggle to reach the venue, the Underground Cookery School on the City Road near Old Street.
As there were quite a few participants we were divided into two groups, swapping over to make the dishes. Mine kicked off with the starter, destined to become fresh tagliatelle with black pepper, truffle oil, Parma ham and parmigiano reggiani. I was perhaps in the minority who had never made pasta from scratch before; but luckily sporting a complimentary Parma Ham apron I happily mixed the flour and egg while under the watchful eye of the chef in charge who added just a splash of olive oil to the mix; then I kneeded it until it reached the required consistency. This was an extremely effective way of dealing with the tensions of the day – all bakers should be very relaxed people! We were each in charge of our own pasta-making machine and following instructions, we started feeding the dough through it, again and again, reducing the number on the dial from 10 right down to 2 in order to reach the required thickness. Mini disasters of the dough falling apart were easily rectified by the chef sprinkling more flour on it. I think I might be more expert the next time! The machine incorporated a tagliatelle cutter, so the neat ribbons of pasta appeared in a trice; we then hung them out to dry on a washing airer, which I found to be quite novel, but very effective.
The groups swapped round and I now found myself faced with a chicken to dissect and bone until I was left with a boneless chicken breast. The very sharp knives provided had to be handled with great care but essential for the job. My rather neat piece of poultry was stuffed with a mixture of cream-cheese, onion and tarragon and then wrapped in Parma ham.
On to dessert, and after the chef had whipped up a mean meringue flavoured with lemon juice and vanilla I was given the honour (with the help of another participant) of spreading it smoothly on the baking sheet. A layer of strawberry-flavoured whipped cream was spread on top and we watched as the chef rolled it into an extremely professional-looking roulade.
We were then all invited to be seated at a long table where everyone chatted away happily. Soon our pasta starter arrived, followed by the chicken breast, succulent under its ham wrap and accompanied by a salad of new potatoes, spring onions and purple sprouting broccoli. The surprise came with the dessert, when we discovered that our lovely roulade had been top with candied Parma ham. In our leaving goody bag were all the recipes and I learnt that to make this, the ham had been placed on a baking sheet, covered with caster sugar and baked in the oven, then broken into shards when cool. I have to say that the delicate flavour of the ham was not quite so prominent here, but nevertheless quite delicious.
We all left, tired but well fed, with a souvenir apron, a booklet of tasty recipes, a folder with detailed information about the production and qualities of Parma ham, and, I’m happy to say, a small pack of superb ‘prosciutto di Parma’.
There are some mouthwatering recipes for Parma Ham on http://www.prosciuttodiparma.com/en_UK/home
Jeannette Nelson, Food writer
We asked busy garden writer Amily Grossman, to give us some of her ideas for gifts for Fathers’ Day. With a little help from friends and relatives, here is her list.
Dads can sometimes feel a little left out in the early days with mum and baby sharing so much one on one time together. Water Babies, is a leading baby swimming school with classes all over the country. Water Babies lessons are a great way to get Dad involved as little ones are able to take lessons from birth, giving Dad and baby a fantastic opportunity to bond. Our favourite Father’s Day gift!
The weight of garden tools can become an issue if you frequently dig, hoe and rake. So your dad might welcome on of the new Light Gardening Tools from Fiskars. The lawn rake looks especially useful, it efficiently clears grass with much less effort than usual. The patio knife on a long handle would save a lot of back ache. Having just broken a wooden handled spade we’re now seriously considering the Light spade for our own gardening activities.
My dad really likes doorstep size slices of bread, toasted muffins, toasted crumpets and fast toast. The Magimix Vision Toaster comes top in all these requirements – the chance to watch the toast cooking a plus feature.
This toaster is great for the man who is of the opinion there is no point in heating up the grill in the cooker for a couple of slices of toast – a total waste of electricity. The side by side design means it fits on the work surface neatly, although we would have it on the table for easy access. Just so you know, this toaster is a Which Best Buy and although pricey at £145 it has good user reviews.
OK, so a toaster is not appropriate for your dad. What about a book?
How about the Penguin series devoted to Simenon’s books – he may well enjoy the first Inspector Maigret novel Pietr the Latvian, if only for nostalgic reasons! Penguin are publishing the entire series of the Maigret novels, so this could cover your gifts for several years!
Confessions of The World’s Best Father – a tongue in cheek series of web entries that started an internet phenomenon. His bewilderment as to how to best raise a child makes Dave Engledow’s book an amusing read. The photographs are pretty good too!
If you’d prefer to give a more sober present, you could go for The Death of Money. James Rickards shows how we could avoid financial collapse.
James Lovelock’s A Rough Ride to the Future confirms his belief that the survival of the human race is one of the most important steps in the evolution of our planet.
With Flowers Shows happening all over the country why not get tickets?
- For instance the Blenheim flower show 20-22 June. http://blenheimflowershow.co.uk/
- Hampton Court Flower Show is on from 8 to 13 July. Yes, it’s pricey but it’s big, a great time to talk to like minded gardeners, many exhibitors are readily accessible and it’s generally good weather! Link
- Harrogate Flower Show is 12-14 September. http://www.flowershow.org.uk/
If your dad is a keen veggie grower he might just like a copy of the Suttons Vegetable Garden Planner <firstname.lastname@example.org> An absolutely winner for us – it takes out all the guesswork and is an easy to refer to record throughout the year.
Backdoor shoes – if your dad is constantly in and out of the garden, he might well like a pair of lightweight Backdoor Shoes to slip on and off. Might keep mum happy too with less mud to clear up. We love ‘em, ours has taken 4 years of hard wear and need replacing now. Which design to choose will be a challenge!
Does this portable USB iShaver razor appeal? Designed to easily slip in a pocket or washbag significant features include:
- Recharge via USB
- Stylishly sleek compact design
- Ultra-thin net foil with floating blades
- Cleaning brush included
- Easy on/off switch
- Comes in a high gloss case and ultra-thin net foil with floating blades for a close, comfortable shave
Finally, some alcohol? Yes, it is a bit of a get out clause, here are some suggestions
You could sign him up for Naked Wines. The company was started up by two former employees of Virgin Wines, with the added ethos of supporting the wine producers, all small scale but dedicated growers. You might like to make your dad a wine angel! Sounds fun? Here’s a link.
Taylor’s 10 year old Tawny Port is rather tasty, we keep some for special occasions and in the winter when we feel the need for something to keep us warm. http://taylor.pt/en/port-wine-ratings-awards/press-comments/
Lastly, for the dad with a dog. The Forestry Commission England has created a one-stop-shop for owners and their dogs looking to take a break in and around forests and woodlands. The Ruff Guide to the Forest showcases 34 Forestry Commission locations across England, highlighting each site’s trails and facilities suitable for dogs, along with dog-friendly places to stay nearby.
Phew, will have to take a break now and go for a spot of weeding! The sun’s out and I’ll don my Backdoor Shoes, pick up the handy trowel with its graduated scale for planting seedlings, put on my Ethel gloves and make sure the waterproof jacket is by the backdoor in case of an unexpected show.
Amily Grossman, gardening expert and occasional contributor to In Balance Magazine