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