Recipe: Parmesan and asparagus frittata

Today I’m cooking a perfect light, summer dish. I love a frittata – so easy to make and often with whatever I have in the house, avoiding any waste. It can all be thrown into one pan to produce a taste sensation.

I was inspired by the fantastic Italian cheeses I received from Vorrei so decided to use their aged mountain Parmesan to make this dish.

Vorrei sells a range of fabulous Italian cheeses sourced from small producers across Italy. They also sell pretty much all things Italian, from chocolates, rice, pasta and pasta sauces to different oils and balsamic vinegar. You can find out more about their delightful selection of carefully selected products at vorrei.co.uk

The fabulous selection of Italian cheeses from Vorrei

The fabulous selection of Italian cheeses from Vorrei

PARMESAN, ASPARAGUS AND HAM FRITTATA

Serves 4

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Straight out of then oven and all ready for slicing

12 thin asparagus spears

A knob of butter

6 eggs

A splash of milk

6 tbsps grated Parmesan

120g shredded ham hock or chopped ham

Salt and pepper, to season

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

Melt the butter in the frying pan and fry the asparagus for about 10 mins until softened and browned.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, Parmesan, salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan and fry the onion until softened.

Pour in the egg mixture and layer the asparagus evenly throughout.

Cook on medium heat until the bottom is well set (about 15 mins), keeping a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn and turning down the temperature if it seems to be cooking too fiercely.

Place the pan under a medium grill for about 10 mins until the top is set and slightly browned.

Serve with a fresh green salad for a delightful, light summer dinner.

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The beautiful asparagus bubbles away in the butter

MY TOP TIPS

To prepare the asparagus, grip it firmly and bend. The end should easily break off, leaving the section of the spear you can cook.

I like to use the thinner spears as they are easy to bite into when they’re in the frittata.

Experiment with different vegetables. Peppers, peas, broad beans, spring onions all work well.

If you’re vegetarian, just leave out the ham, it still tastes fabulous.

I like to fry the asparagus rather than boil it as it adds a lovely buttery flavour to the mix.

If you’re feeling indulgent, add a few tablespoons of cream to the egg mix.

Frittata is also delicious cold and it’s very portable. Simply wrap up a generous slice for a packed lunch.

Recipes: Two great dishes with Parma ham

Okay, I admit it, I’m a bit of a ham fanatic! There’s always ham of some sort in my fridge and when I go to Italy or Spain I dream about lugging home a whole leg, complete with its special frame and knife so I can nibble freshly sliced delicacies at my leisure. As it’s not the most practical of ideas – have you ever tried lifting one of them, not to mention how long would it take for me to get through a whole leg on my own – there’s no tempting ham on tap in my kitchen. Of course that doesn’t mean I can’t eat it to my heart’s delight.

I went to Parma in Italy a couple of years ago where there was a delicious aroma of ham in the air, I swear there was. The platters I dug into there were truly sensational. So I’m very excited to try cooking with this wonderful meat – a good reminder that while it certainly tastes amazing simply sliced and devoured, it’s also a fabulous ingredient to cook with. Try these yummy dishes.

Fresh Tagliatelle with Black Pepper, Truffle Oil,
Parma Ham and Parmigiano Reggiano

pasta

This wonderfully simple pasta dish is so full of flavour

Serves 2

100g ‘00’ pasta flour

1 medium egg

Pinch of salt

Black pepper

Truffle oil

4 slices of Parma Ham

4 tbsps of Parmigiano Reggiano

1. Place the pasta flour into a small bowl. Make a well and crack an egg into the middle with a pinch of salt. Using a fork, stir the egg and gradually bring in the flour a little at a time until you get a messy dough. Use your hands to press the dough together and kneed on a clean surface for a couple of minutes until you have smooth and firm dough. Add a little water if too dry, or extra flour if too wet

2. Using a pasta machine, make sure the thickness setting is on highest (should be No.10 on most machines). Roll your dough through this setting and then fold the dough in half. Pass it through again and then fold it in half again and follow this procedure 10 times until you have a very smooth dough. Now roll the dough through each setting twice until you get down to No 2 or 1. Your pasta should be very thin now

3. You can now cut your pasta into the shape of your choice. If you have a Tagliatelle cutter feed the thin sheet of pasta through it and lay the pasta on a tray lined with baking paper. Blanch in salted water for 1-11/2 minutes or until cooked and slightly al dente. Toss with truffle oil, and top with Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

If you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own pasta (though it is delicious and very therapeutic), simply cook pasta according to the packet instructions and follow the second half of Step 3. Simple.

Roast Breast of Chicken stuffed with Tarragon and wrapped in Parma Ham.
Salad of New Potatoes, Spring Onions, Cress and Purple Sprouting Broccoli

chicken

This combination of ingredients takes chicken to another level

Serves 2

35g full fat cream cheese

1 small onion diced and cooked off in a little olive oil

1 small hand-full of freshly chopped Tarragon

2 chicken fillets

2 slices of Parma Ham

2 pints chicken stock

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

120g baby new potatoes

4 spring onions sliced

1 tub fresh cress

120g purple sprouting broccoli 

1. To make the stuffing, mix the cream-cheese, onion and tarragon together with a little olive oil and add pepper to taste; set aside

2. For the salad, wash the potatoes thoroughly and boil until soft. Blanch the broccoli. Mix extra virgin olive oil with the potatoes cress and spring onions. Add the broccoli to the top of the salad after seasoning; set aside

3. Cut a pocket in the chicken breast fillets and add a teaspoon of the stuffing; close-up the pocket Now wrap a slice of Parma ham around each breast and drizzle with olive oil; lightly season with salt and pepper. Roast in a pre-heated oven at 170C/Gas mark 5 for twenty-five minutes

4. Take 1.5L of chicken stock and reduce to 8 tablespoons /120ml

5. When the chicken is cooked, take out of oven, rest for 5 minutes. Place on top of the salad and drizzle with jus.

Thanks to The Underground Cookery School for the recipes. 

undergroundcookeryschool.com

Cheese recipes of the month: we’re going Italian

I have to admit to being a bit of a cheese lover. Easily able to turn down the prospect of pudding, I can rarely say no to a cheeseboard. Cheese is also great for cooking with and a great way to liven up vegetables (think cauliflower cheese, one of my favourites) or  bring another dimension to dishes.

So I was delighted when I was sent the new Italian cheese range from DIVO Cheeses selected by renowned Italian chef Aldo Zilli. There’s Gorgonzola, Ricotta and amazing Parmigiano to choose from. I’m concocting some new recipes as I write this (in my head!) but in the meantime, here’s some from Aldo himself. Particularly love the souffles!

Truffle and DIVO Parmigiano Reggiano souffles

The ultimate in indulgent souffles

The ultimate in indulgent souffles

Serves 4

2 tablespoons butter, plus extra for greasing

4 tablespoons breadcrumbs

4 tablespoons plain flour

75 ml milk

200g mozzarella cut into pieces

2 tablespoons DIVO grated heart of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

50 g fresh truffle, finely sliced, or use truffle paste

4 eggs, separated

4 tbsps truffle oil, to drizzle

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Butter 4 ramekins and coat with the breadcumbs.

Mix together the flour and milk. Melt the butter in a pan and gradually stir in the milk mixture.

Continue stirring and cooking the sauce until it just reaches boiling point. Cook the sauce for 3 minutes, then add the mozzarella, DIVO Parmigiano Reggiano, seasoning, truffle and egg yolks.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Gently fold the whites into the truffle mixture. Pour into the coated ramekins and cook for 23 mins.

Serve immediately.

Cannellini bean soup

Zesty soup with Parmesan

Zesty soup with Parmesan

Serves 4

1 onion, quartered

3 garlic cloves

40g fresh parsley

2 tbsps olive oil

2 x 400g cans cannellini beans

1.2 litres chicken stock

Juice of 1 lemon

DIVO Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O. Extra, for grating over the top

Blend the onion, garlic and parsley in a food processor until finely chopped.

Heat the oil in a pan, add mixture and cook until the onion is soft. Add the cannellini beans and cook for two minutes. Pour over the stock, season and bring to the boil. Cover and cook for 15 mins until the beans are cooked.

Add the lemon juice and reheat gently before serving with the DIVO Parmigiano Reggiano Extra grated over the top

Aubergine Cannelloni

Aubergine cannelloni stuffed with silken ricotta

Aubergine cannelloni stuffed with silken ricotta

Serves 4

2 aubergines

300g DIVO ricotta

50g DIVO Parmigiano Reggiano Extra, grated (or for vegetarians DIVO Vegetarian Grated Italian Hard Cheese)

150g mozzarella, finely diced

15g fresh basil, torn into pieces, plus extra to garnish

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

200g cherry tomatoes

4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180°C

Cut the aubergines lengthways into 5 mm thick slices and grill on both sides until soft.

In a bowl, mix the DIVO ricotta with half the grated DIVO Parmigiano Reggiano (or for vegetarians, DIVO Vegetarian Grated Italian hard cheese) and the mozzarella. Add almost all the basil and seasonings.

Spread the ricotta mixture over each aubergine slice and roll up.

Arrange the aubergine rolls in a buttered roasting tin and sprinkle with the rest of the grated DIVO Parmigiano Reggiano/DIVO Vegetarian Grated Italian hard cheese. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend the cherry tomatoes with the olive oil and remaining basil leaves in a blender or food processor. Pour the sauce into a pan and heat through.

Serve the cannelloni, sprinkled with the extra basil, with the tomato sauce.

The DIVO range of cheeses are available from Ocado and Morrisons.

Big cheese of the month: Parmigiano Reggiano

Welcome to the start of a new series on one of my favourite foods…cheese. This month, in celebration of my trip in the summer to the wonderful Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, I’m starting with Parmesan.

In Parma and the surrounding area you’ll find Parmesan eaten as a starter, in a main course, and as dessert…it’s not just for grating over your pasta! And in some of the markets, the aroma of it is literally in the air! So amazing.

Parmigiano Reggiano (to use its full official name) was first made hundreds of years ago (around 1200) at the Benedictine monasteries in the area between the Po River and the Apennine mountains. It’s special because the milk is produced by cows fed according to strict regulations where certain foodstuffs are forbidden. The cows are milked twice a day and the milk is taken to the cheese house within two hours of each milking.

Then it becomes the responsibility of the cheesemaker – and it’s a serious business with techniques handed down through the centuries as a result of generations of experience.

And you need a lot of milk. 16 litres for 1kg of Parmigiano Reggiano. That’s 550 litres to make one of those big wheels you see. It’s made by hand and aged for a minimum of 12 months. The final result is delicious, creamy, crumbly Parmesan.

It’s a really versatile cheese – so why not be adventurous and try some of these lovely recipes.

Mouthwatering Parmigiano Reggiano

Parmigiano-Reggiano crisp canapés topped with lemon pepper cream and hot smoked salmon

Parmesan crisp canapes

Makes 10 canapés

15ml Crème fraiche

Finely grated zest of one lemon

Fennel seeds, chopped

Grated and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, to serve

½ small fennel bulb

75g Hot smoked salmon, flaked

Salt and black pepper

Crisps

50g Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

1 tbsp plain flour

Grease and line a large baking sheet with greaseproof paper

1 Mix Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and plain flour, along with a good pinch of black pepper.

2 Spoon teaspoon-sized rounds of this mixture onto the baking sheet and flatten slightly with the back of the spoon. The mixture should give 10 crisps, make sure there is plenty of space between each one, as the mixture will spread a little.

3 Place the rounds under a hot grill for 2-3 minutes until the cheese has melted to make a golden brown crisp.

4 Remove each crisp carefully using a pallet knife and leave to cool on greaseproof paper.

5 Mix crème fraiche together with lemon zest and season to taste.

6 To assemble,spoon a small amount of lemon crème fraiche on top of each crisp. Then sprinkle with a few fennel seeds, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese  and finely chopped fennel, before topping with flakes of hot smoked salmon and black pepper.

7 Finally, garnish with sprigs of fresh fennel and serve

Cook’s tip: Make things easy for yourself and prepare ahead. Both the crisps and lemon cream can be made in the morning, just keep the crisps in an air-tight container and refrigerate the cream

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and asparagus tart

Parmesan and asparagus tart

Serves 2

2 10x20cm puff pastry rectangles

1 egg, beaten

2 tbsp green pesto

30g shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra to serve

4 tbsp mascarpone cheese

6 asparagus spears

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

2tbsp grated Parmgiano-Reggiano cheese

Torn basil leaves, to serve

Salt and black pepper

1 Preheat the oven to 200°C.

2 Place the pastry rectangles on a greased baking sheet and carefully score lines 1cm away from the pastry edges with a sharp knife. Prick the inner rectangle with a fork and brush with beaten egg.

3 Spread a thin layer of pesto all over the base of the inner rectangle and top with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and small spoonfuls of mascarpone cheese.

4 Blanche the asparagus spears for 1 minute in boiling salted water, drain, and place 3 spears across each tart.

5 Sprinkle a little lemon zest and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano over each tart and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and risen.

6 Serve the tarts with shaved Parmgiano-Reggiano and freshly torn basil leaves.

Open lasagne of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, prawns and baby squid with lemon and basil pesto dressing

Open lasagne with Parmesan and seafood

Serves 2

100g raw tiger prawns

150g calamari rings and tentacles

Zest and juice of ½ lemon

1 tbsp olive oil

6 x 10cm2 sheets fresh lasagne

½ fennel bulb, finely chopped

Salt and black pepper

White sauce

50g butter

1 tbsp plain flour

300ml milk

1 tbsp crème fraiche

50g Parmigano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Walnut and basil pesto dressing

2 tbsp roughly chopped basil

45g chopped walnuts

Finely grated zest of ½ lemon

4tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp roughly chopped parsley

1 garlic clove, crushed

25g grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1 Marinate the seafood in the zest and juice of ½ lemon, 1 tbsp olive oil, salt and black pepper.

2 Meanwhile, blend together all the ingredients for the pesto and season well to taste.

3 For the sauce, melt the butter over a gentle heat and whisk in the flour. Gradually add the milk, whisking continuously until the sauce thickens. Whisk in the crème fraiche, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and lemon zest.  Season to taste.

4 Cook the lasagne sheets in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes and then keep warm.

5 Place the seafood and fennel on a hot griddle for 2 minutes, or until cooked.

6 To assemble, spoon a little white sauce onto the centre of each plate and top with a sheet of lasagne. Add more white sauce and top with seafood and fennel, followed by some walnut pesto. Repeat this layering process with another sheet of lasagne. Finally, top with another sheet of lasagne and drizzle over more pesto and drizzle over a small amount of olive oil before serving

Emilia-Romagna in Italy…how I loved it!

When my sister-in-law, Perry said she was going to Italy last June and did I want to meet her there…obviously I jumped at the chance. Silly not to.

She was swimming in the World Masters Championships (yes, she’s a seriously good swimmer) in Riccione in the Emilia-Romagna area in North-East Italy. The region is one of the most fertile in Italy, responsible for classic Italian produce like Parmesan, Parma ham, all kinds of stuffed pasta, Mortadella and Balsamic vinegar. And Bologna is home to the oldest university in Europe, so plenty of culture and history to look forward to, too.

A short flight to Bologna from London, a rather hectic train journey to Riccione and there we were, ready for the first leg of our adventure – some swimming, sun, sea and sand…and of course plenty of delicious Italian morsels. Riccione is a typical seaside resort – it exists for beach babies like me. There’s about 14km of beach, lined with restaurants, umbrellas and sunbeds. And it’s hot! Perfect.

Eat at one of the many restaurants along the beach and this will be your view

There’s even a special area for doggies

The food is so good and so fresh, that you’re guaranteed a tasty meal wherever you stop off. Our lunch on the beach in Rimini (just up the road from Riccione) consisted of a mix of salads and the ever-present selection of irresistible hams and everything tasted heavenly. Order loads and share and marvel at how low the bill is!

Bresaola with rocket and Parmesan on the beach

Tomato, Mozzarella and basil, the perfect combination

After three days in Riccione the swimming sadly came to an end, it was so much fun and I met so many new people, I’m definitely up for going again – Perry are you listening?! So, time to move on to our next destination…Bologna. Back on the train, and again, pretty hectic. Italian trains are fabulous – cheap and mostly on-time – but they can be packed so it’s not much fun travelling on them with heavy suitcases. And as I can’t really speak any Italian (being able to reel off dishes off menus isn’t a great help in everyday situations), the communication under pressure was problematic to say the least! We needed to settle in and unpack, leaving us free to explore the area unencumbered. So that’s what we did.

Bologna is a big, busy city with masses of eating and shopping opportunities. The food market off the main square was my favourite place. It’s packed with goodies from the region, with the aroma of ham and cheese in the air. If I lived in Bologna I’d go there for coffee every day and be happy!

Pasta heaven in the market

Hams as far as the eye can see. One day I’m going to bring one of these home!

While we were planning our Italian odyssey an email popped up in my inbox – telling me about the latest ratings for the top-50 restaurants in the world. And guess what, number five, Osteria Francescana was just down the road in Modena – a short train journey from Bologna. I anxiously emailed to book a table for lunch and was thrilled to get in. It was a fabulous experience, worth a visit to Modena on its own, and I had what is my favourite dish of the year (so far) – an amazing guinea hen masterpiece.

Modena is home to Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati, so we popped into the new Ferrari museum (worth a visit for any petrolheads out there) and it’s also the birthplace of Pavarotti. So there’s plenty happening there!

The amazing Parmesan starter at Osteria Francescana

My dish of the year guinea hen in all its splendour

We also paid a visit to Parma which is a slightly longer train journey away. It has a more relaxed air with wide streets and plenty of trees and green spaces. And as home to two of the  most classic and perfect ingredients in the world, Parmesan and Parma ham has to be the ideal place for lunch. Once you’ve eaten them in their home town the flavours will stay with you forever.

When in Parma…eat ham…and other Italian meaty deliciousness

My idea of total heaven – tomatoes in all shapes and sizes

Of the restaurants we went to in Bologna, I’d recommend Teresina. We sat in their little courtyard-type space (well kind of a dead-end alley, but with charm) and feasted on amazing local dishes. The fritto misto (which I also ordered in Riccione) was delightful as was the tagliata.

Fritto Misto is a must-have in this part of Italy

Just writing about this again has inspired me to organise another trip to Italy. And it’s also reminded me that I didn’t do nearly enough shopping when I was there last time! I love all the things I bought (shoes, bags, jewellery, belts). The question is where to next??

We stayed at the Royal Carlton Hotel in Bologna which was very comfortable and welcoming, as well as being perfectly positioned for our odyssey, close to the centre of town and the train station. It also had a lovely outdoor area with little gazebos where we polished off plenty of glasses of Prosecco and other beverages.