Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O. and Eleonora Galasso:
I was delighted to be invited to celebrate Italian Republic Day by enjoying a delicious Italian menu featuring Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O., ‘The King of Cheeses’, tasting dishes created by the rather beautiful Eleonora Galasso, a charming Italian food writer, blogger and teacher who was sharing her wealth of knowledge on authentic Italian cuisine.
It happened to be one of the hottest days of the year, so having travelled from West to East London in the overwhelming heat of the underground it was a pleasant surprise to enter the cool interior of The Brand Exchange, a newly renovated private members club, in the heart of the city.
We were greeted with Italian prosecco and small chunks of 2 different maturities of Parmigiano Reggiano; the 18 month cheese, was mild but full flavoured with a crumbly, grainy texture, and provided the perfect accompaniment to the light bubbles of the cold prosecco, whereas the stronger 30 month cheese, which has the highest nutritional value, was drier and crumblier, but is recommended to be eaten with a full-bodied red wine.
Dinner was held upstairs in a light and airy room, where Eleanor gave us a lovely introduction to the evening by sharing with us her abundance of passion for the Italian diet, she imparted the joys of eating ‘the Italian way’, and the 6 pm ‘aperitivo’, a popular social activity in Italian culture, which enables people to meet, drink and share small dishes in the early evening. And of course the well-known benefits of eating a Mediterranean diet, which is scientifically proven to lengthen life and lower cholesterol, definitely not to be sniffed at!
Eleonora inherited some of her recipes from her family, passed down from generation to generation, others she collected travelling around the Lazio region, accumulating secrets and techniques from an eclectic cast of characters for whom eating ‘the Italian way’ is not a lifestyle statement but a necessity.
Italy is a country with an elder generation that takes up 80% of the population; therefore Eleonora feels it’s important to keep the older generation’s recipes alive.
Parmigiano Reggiano has to be one of my favourite cheeses, pleasurable eaten alone, in salads or finely grated and heaped on freshly made pasta. It is an Italian trademark and is the only true, authentic Parmesan Cheese, it takes about 8 Gallons of milk to make a pound of it, and it has a very high protein and vitamin content and is praised for calcium as well. Best kept in the fridge, in greaseproof paper and Eleanor recommended using a parmesan knife, with a short sturdy blade which splits and breaks the cheese rather than cutting it.
All the dishes we tried over the evening were made using beautifully fresh summer ingredients to make the most of the season with the added delight of Parmesan Reggiano (PR).
For ‘aperitivo’ we had some inviting courgette fritters, these were made with: PR, flour, beer, extra virgin olive oil, coriander and mint. They were gloriously fresh, lemony and light and not in the slightest bit greasy.
The savoury profiteroles with PR and chicory cream were wonderful, soft and creamy with a hint of lemon and mint. They literally melted in the mouth.
And finally, we ate small, perfectly cooked aubergine rolls with PR and a delectable creamy ricotta and hazelnut filling.
Eleonora temptingly demonstrated how to put together spaghetti with lemon and guanciale (pork cheek), each ingredient added with loving care to create the most delicious combination of tastes.
The spaghetti was cooked al dente, Eleonora had made a lemon sauce with thyme, to which she added the salted water, which the pasta had been cooked in; the starchiness of water creates a creamy consistency in the sauce. Lots of finely grated Parmesan was stirred in, along with chopped olives, fresh thyme, pine nuts, whole roasted peppercorns, and for meat eaters there was the option of adding of rich chunks of flavoursome guanciale. The result was a perfect summer’s pasta dish with simple, fresh ingredients, creating the ideal combination of tastes, with wonderfully intense, lingering flavours with the added contrast of the bite of the pasta, the tartness of the lemon, the creaminess of the parmesan and crunch of the crispy pork and roasted peppercorns – heaven! All washed down with a chilled, crisp, dry Del Comune Di Gavi.
To end the evening we were served Cantucci biscuits, which were made with PR, olives, pine nuts, fennel seeds, and cooked twice to create a really crispy crunch. They were rather like a savoury biscotti biscuit, and even though they tasted very good, I would have much preferred to have eaten them as an ‘aperitivo’.
I would have liked to finish our delicious Italian meal with something a little sweet, to counteract the host of savoury tastes I had enjoyed so much.
There is no doubt that the Italians really know how to make the most of the summer. Eleonora’s superb cooking, using fresh Mediterranean ingredients leads to dreams of to eating al fresco, dining on freshly made pasta with grated Parmesan, a chilled glass of vino in hand, and ideally sitting at a long table surrounded by family and friends, amongst olive groves and the rolling countryside. I know where I would like to be holidaying this summer!
Disclosure: I was a guest of Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O.