Hake is a beauty of a fish that is so underappreciated. We love it in Ireland, the Spanish love it too. In a way, I am glad that it isn’t hugely popular here as it makes it quite affordable. That big piece of hake in the photo came in at under £5 in an excellent but expensive London fishmonger. It flakes gently and has a beautiful light flavour. It works very well with big things like chorizo but it also plays well with gentler things like these summery beans.
My visit to Parma and the Festival of Parma Ham was sponsored by the Parma Ham Consortium. This is the first of two posts on Parma ham. Check out the second post, which is my recipe for fantastic fried bread dumplings, gnocco fritto. (You do NEED to make them and they are easy too). One of my favourite things and a perfect snack.
Emilia Romagna is a much visited part of Italy for me. Known as the belly of Italy, you can see the attraction. Home to some of the most recognised Italian food products: parma ham, parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar of Modena. Mortadella is originally from Bologna too, and that most recognised of British dishes spaghetti Bolognese is inspired by the original Tagliatelle with Ragu from Emilia Romagna, and it takes its name from Bologna. Although best not to mention spaghetti bolognese to anyone there, it tends to enrage them (and when you have the pasta there, you can see why).
Emilia Romagna is a joy to travel around. Small cities with their own proud specialities are easily accessible by train (or by car if you prefer). There are common threads in each city. You will always see tagliatelle with ragu, stuffed pastas like tortelloni, passatelli (beautiful parmesan noodles) and cappelletti in brodo, a gorgeous small stuffed pasta in rich broth. Added to all of this, each city will have its own specialities. In Parma, those are specifically Parma ham and parmigiano reggiano (aka parmesan cheese).
Festival del Prosciutto / The Festival of Parma Ham
Each September, the people of Parma celebrate their ham with gusto at the Festival del Prosciutto. In its 20th year this year, the Festival of Parma Ham is a celebration of all things prosciutto di parma with a pop up bistro downtown serving freshly sliced ham and excellent ham sandwiches packed with it. There are also Finestre Aperte, or Open Doors, where Parma ham producers open their facilities to the public for tours and tastings.
What makes Parma ham special?
The production of Parma ham is highly regulated and controlled via regular inspection. It has a designated PDO (since 1986), a Protected Designated of Origin. A PDO is only awarded when there is a group of producers who can prove that their product can only be made in their geographic area and in a particular traditional way. Champagne has it, parmesan has it, and Parma ham has it too. You can recognise Parma ham by a crown stamp on the skin of the leg. In Europe only this ham can be sold as Parma ham and it is very tightly regulated.
Parma ham is simply Italian pork leg cured with pure sea salt and time. The pork is from Large White, Landrace and Duroc pigs fed on maize, barley and whey from the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Each leg is approximately 8-10kg weight. Traditionally the process would start when the weather changed with the advent of winter, now with refrigeration it is possible to make it year round.
Finestre Aperte / Open Doors at G. Tanaro in Langhirano
I visited G. Tanaro in Langhirano during the Parma ham festival as part of the Finestre Aperte, and was brought on an excellent tour of the facility by owner Paolo Tanara. His father Giancarlo started the facility, and they still make the ham as his father did. Paolo detailed the procedure and brought us through the ageing rooms. The smell is sublime as it ages, every food lover should stand in a Parma ham ageing cellar at one point in their lives. Divine. The tour finishes with a tasting of their wonderful ham. These tours are also available to the public at the time of the Festival of Parma Ham.
How is Parma Ham made?
The legs are salted on arrival by the maestro salatore (a highly trained salt master) and hung in temperature and humidity controlled conditions. A second coating of salt is applied a week later, and the legs are left to hang for up to 18 days. The hams then hang for between 60 and 90 days in refrigerated and humidity controlled rooms. The hams are then washed and dried to remove excess salt and impurities before being dried on frames in long rooms lined with windows which are opened when the temperature and humidity are favourable. This is key to the flavour of the ham. After about 3 months the exposed parts of the ham are greased with pork lard and salt to protect them, and then the hams are dried further in ham cellars, rooms with less air and light. All Parma ham is cured for a minimum of 1 year (from the first day of salting), up to 3 years.
The hams and facility are inspected many times over the process, both internally and by consortium inspectors. Any hams that do not pass muster are discarded. The quality of the ham is tested using a needle made from a horse bone. It sounds medieval, but the horse bone communicates the smell of the ham as it ages purely and directly to the trained nose of the ham makers.
And now you know why it tastes so good, right? Parma ham and your many makers, I salute you.
For more information on the Festival of Parma Ham please see: http://www.festivaldelprosciuttodiparma.com/en/
What do you think of cold soups? Some people absolutely rage against them, don’t they? But they can be so good. Gazpacho? CHECK. Aja Blanco? Hells YES. That delicious confection of almonds, raw garlic, extra virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar, with green grapes halved on top to finish. And of course, vichyssoise, aka wonderful leek and potato soup. We usually eat it hot here, but the tradition in France is to have it cold and it is gorgeous.
It isn’t hot I know, at least it feels cool at 22 deg C with a breeze. My internal thermostat was forever reset by those days early in the summer in the mid 30’s and a few days over 40 in Ottawa in June. Yet, I wanted something cooling, and my friend, who is ill with a poorly intestine did too.
Eat Like a Girl is 10 today. TEN! Woah, happy birthday to you, little thing!
10 years ago, at about this time, I was sitting at my (very messy) office desk feeling overwhelmed. It was towering with notebooks and papers relating to the science publishing projects that I was working on (I studied science at degree level and then technology for my masters). I worked late, and to relax I cooked when I got home. Many evenings and weekends would be spent exploring food shops from far off lands and bringing home ingredients that I hoped google would help me understand or one of my many cookbooks which I had been hoarding for years.
(there was punctuation, I swear!)
I have always been a cook more than anything, as much as I love to eat out now. I didn’t eat out much when I first moved to London, I didn’t have much money after the bills were paid, but I did cook, and I looked at restaurant menus all the time, taking inspiration from them to my kitchen back home. I was obsessed with travel, and travelled when I could (rarely), taking inspiration from those trips back home to my kitchen also. Continue reading
I travelled to Barcelona with Jet2CityBreaks who offer great hotel and flight city break packages. Jet2 fly to El Prat Airport in Barcelona which is a short hop from town and very handy for a city break. I wanted to explore Barcelona from all edible angles, traditional to modern and budget to blowout. Every recommendation is researched in advance and tried and tested by my demanding palate. I went on a food tour too. You will love Barcelona, and all of the wonderful things that you can eat there.
Everyone loves Barcelona, even contrarians like me. It seems like everyone has been, and if they haven’t, they want to go. An individual city, so much sets it apart from quirky Gaudi architecture to the beautiful engraved pavement tiles, the most famous of which is the Flor de Barcelona pictured below. Barcelona is a city that loves beauty and attracts artists, a bohemian place that is relaxed and fun and also very stylish. Barcelona has the calm of the sea and beaches as well as a busy city centre lined with restaurants and bars. Continue reading
First things first, American readers, wild garlic is the same as ramps :)
I always wondered why I didn’t know about wild garlic when I was growing up in the Irish countryside, and why the surrounding hedgerows and fields weren’t full of it. There was 3 cornered leek, slender and more grassy with a longer season, but still with gorgeous oniony flowers. But no wild garlic at all. The answer became clear as I investigated, rural areas which have lots of dairy cattle don’t have much of it because cows eat the wild garlic and it makes the milk very pungent. So the farmers dig it up. Once it takes root, if conditions are right, wild garlic will take over and spread. You will find it in the shade and with moist soil, you will often find them near patches of bluebells. Once I discovered this, I realised that we had had wild garlic all the time.
In an old abandoned stately home at the end of my road (not uncommon in Ireland), there was a beautiful wood which would be carpeted by bluebells and what we called white bluebells in Spring, and which I now realise was wild garlic. I loved that place and dreamed that one day I might own it. A big old house facing the Atlantic, it had a large wood on either side where we would go for conkers and fruit in Autumn and flowers in Spring. It had a walled garden with apple trees, cherry trees and gooseberry bushes. It was a secret garden that we would play in, the green door still intact and the white wall still high. There were abandoned old stables and a big house, still fully furnished. We found diaries, skis and a wedding dress when we investigated one day. There was a gorgeous small lodge at the entrance outside, which by now was a field full of cows. It was demolished to make way for a golf club, and I was devastated to discover it. Most of the local community were.
We spent much of our childhood wandering around here. The house slowly degraded and became dangerous so we weren’t allowed go there but we still always would. The cows moved in from the field outside to the woods and the ground, and one day we were chased by some bulls (although I fear actually timid bullocks) and we spent hours up a tree waiting for them to go, having to dash across at one point and climb a thick briar, to be rescued from on top of the high external wall by my friends visiting cousin when he wandered past and heard us wailing. We brought a ladder another day to access the house from the first floor now that the downstairs was barred (remember: dangerous!) only to discover a hole in the window and a dead crow splayed on the ground. I took that as a sign and turned heel, with everyone else yelling chicken after me. Chicken maybe, but I just saw a dead crow!
This wasn’t the only old abandoned house that we played in but it was by far the largest and the most magical. When people left Ireland in poverty, they left their houses behind to crumble with the weather and time. Woodhouse became one of their number and there are no photos that I can find of this gorgeous place. Likely it was much smaller than my child’s eye remembers. Fond memories remain only.
Harvesting wild garlic as I was all those years ago, although with no idea, just to put in vases all around the house. I loved their pretty flowers. Now, I treasure the flowers and the leaves and do all I can to get my mitts on them in season. The flowers have a gorgeous sharp flavour, the leaves too but more sour. I buy it at the farmer’s market, my friend Danny has a garden full and recently donated a plant to my cause, and last weekend I was in Cardiff and went foraging with my friend Abi. We found a riverside carpeted with it, it was more of a stream really. Tender small young leaves and mainly unopened flower buds, which I will pickle like capers.
With Danny’s plant, I made a wild garlic porchetta. I had porchetta in my head since my last trip to Rome and I had to make it, if only to exorcise it from my brain. I adore porchetta when it is well made. At home it is tricky, you really need to seal the porchetta as well as you can so that you can retain the fat within, the fat is key to moisture and flavour and there is much of it in the meat. The best way to do this is to stitch the porchetta closed all round. You can seal the ends with tin foil too. I didn’t have a butchers needle (although I have ordered one now) but I did have butchers twine, and so I wrestled my slippery porchetta just before midnight on a night last week and closed it as tightly as I could manage.
For porchetta, you want the loin and belly still as one joint (with the ribs removed). Ask your butcher to do this for you, one of my favourite butchers in London Turner and George prepared it expertly for me (they have an online shop and deliver too). I then blitzed some wild garlic leaves with some oil (rendered pork lard would have been better but I didn’t have any), and rubbed it on to the flesh inside. I rolled it tight and tied it as best as I could – not terribly well if I am honest, I need to work on it – but the results were still gorgeous. I started it bright and furiously, then covered it with foil to roast overnight at a lower temperature. In the morning, my flat smelled gloriously porky with a perky sharp edge of wild garlic, I removed the foil and blasted it again until the skin was perfectly crisp. Roasting it slowly overnight will always give perfect crackling once you dry the skin before you put it in.
This was such a gorgeous dish. I recommend getting some friends around and serving it as you would a roast, or for a picnic in pizza bianca or gorgeous crusty bread. If you want to serve it for dinner, put it in first thing in the morning, it doesn’t need to be overnight.
I have so many ideas for my wild garlic but I would love to hear yours too. Or do you have any favourite recipes that you could link me to? Thanks!
Other wild garlic ideas from Eat Like a Girl:
Gorgeous wild garlic recipes from elsewhere:
Wild Garlic Pesto, Soup, Bread etc etc etc from Food Urchin
Wet & Wild Garlic Lasagne with Creamy St. George’s Mushrooms & Fresh Egg Pasta from Ramson’s & Bramble in Leeds, UK
serves 8 - the leftovers are brilliant also
- 1 x 4 to 5 kg porchetta joint (ask your butcher to prepare one with the belly and loin with ribs removed, and skin still on) - you won't regret making more, it is sandwich heaven
- 50g wild garlic leaves
- 2 tbsp oil like extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil (or pork dripping if you have it)
- sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- butcher's string
- aluminium foil to cover
- a deep roasting tray that will fit the roast comfortably
I have a list. Really, I do and I try to stick to it. But I just hate sticking to lists. I love grabbing my biro and adding to it. It is stupidly long.
Everything is in the wrong order, but who cares, right? I don’t. Perhaps, I should. But caring about lists is just not my bag, baby. I love clambering up and down my list, reviewing, striking things off because I am bored of just the idea of it. I find it difficult sometimes to get things done. I do always get there in the end though.
I definitely indulge my whims far too much.
I have been cooking all day and have so many recipes to share with you. My favourite would have to be big green olives from Spain stuffed with homemade ricotta, sobrasada (spreadable spicy sausage from Mallorca) and sage, breadcrumbed and then deep fried to form little olive bullets.
The filling is like spicy creamy molten lava. It will shock, burn and make you smile. And you will go for another one. With sobrasada running down your chin, you will dip your hand back in and risk another shot.
Oh and I made candied bacon apples too. Yes, I did, I really did. They are awesome.
Lots more too but, you know, I just fancy sharing some of my photos from Seville with you right now. My list is on the verge of a tantrum. I will deal with it tomorrow.
Patience, readers, that olive recipe will be with you very soon. For now, enjoy a little immersion in Sevilla.
They say that you know when you meet the one. Thunderbolts! Lightning! Love at first sight.
I knew from the first moment that I saw his shiny pink face through the glass, his blush pink nose, his hollow head. Great sausage too. I had to have him, and I had to have him there and then.
I bought that N’Duja pig.
Eh? Whazzat? This, my friends is a pig shaped burner, about the size of an aromatherapy one. But no oils go in here, at least not for fragrance. This burner heats up my N’Duja sausage gently over candlelight and makes it spreadable and warm. It’s a fabulous treat.
N’Duja is a spicy spreadable Calabrian sausage, specifically from a small town Spillinga and the region around it in Southern Calabria. It can be difficult to source but is worth all of your efforts, I promise you. Food fact: it is closely related to the French andouille sausage, used in my previous recipe post for gumbo.
Made using meat from the head (minus the cheeks, which are used for guanciale) and other cuts like shoulder, belly and back fat, roasted hot red peppers give it its characteristic intense fiery taste.
And boy is it fiery! Like chorizo and paprika you can buy dolce or piccante (spicy). I went for spicy today, and calmed it down with some creamy goats cheese on top. It was a perfect and wonderfully indulgent snack. At least the first one was. The second was guilty, the third greedy. I had to hide it from myself then (they were big Swedish crackers).
Londoners who want some of their own pig action, I bought it in Selfridge’s whilst seeking out some elusive sparkling white fresh Iberico pork lard (also amazing and a post in itself, but sadly, not available this time).
I was very disappointed to miss Ben Greeno at The Loft Project. People were a buzz with it, but it was sold out. I watched from the sidelines as the pictures unfolded, read the blog posts and felt quite sorry for myself. Then I heard that he was back in London from Copenhagen and would be starting his own supper club very soon.
I didn’t hesitate booking. Ben is an increasingly renowned culinary talent, a rising star. He started out in the UK at 21 Queen Street in his native Newcastle, and then to Sat Bains and over the last 9 years has graced the kitchens of many a restaurant that I hope to visit – notably the current No 1 in the world, Noma, where he was recently joint head pastry chef and David Chang’s Momofuku.
I was a little disorganised and found myself anxiously seeking a decent wine shop way too near the time of the supper club. Stamford Hill, where I live, is a fairly dry spot, more akin to synagogues (it’s one of the three largest Hassidic Jewish areas in the world) than wine shops. Hackney, where the supper club resides, is on the up, but is sadly lacking good independent wine shops that are open after 6pm. Grim! I couldn’t go and eat nice food with a poor bottle of wine.
Twitter came to my rescue, and I was told of Bottle Apostle, a gorgeous and well stocked independent wine shop near Victoria Park. Committed and tenacious, I walked over a mile in my favourite red patent heels, and was delighted to discover it. Hackney-ites – take note, you should explore here.
With a lovely Alsatian Riesling from Bruno Sorg in hand and a decent bold Alentejo red from Portugal that I neglected to save the name of (touriga nacional & syrah blend – the wine improved the more it sat in the glass, I think we should have decanted it), we made our way to Ben’s abode. Ben greeted us with a chilled glass of prosecco and everyone settled in and started to chat.
It’s a small supper club, with only 10 seats. Everyone sits at one large table, and two chefs prepare and serve the food only a few feet away. Ben was assisted by Isaac of Elliot’s of Borough the night we attended.
After 45 minutes or so of very friendly mingling with prosecco and nibbles of raw carrots, courgettes, olives and zingy herb mayonnaise (it was much better than the description implies), we started.
The first dish was Mackerel, Umeboshi, Jostaberry and Horseradish. The mackerel had been salted and was perfectly fresh. The umeboshi and jostaberry brought the dish to life and distracted from that slight fishiness that mackerel always has, the horseradish was delicate and gentle and didn’t fight with the dish. The jostaberries were unusual and awoke a lovely taste memory, I have had these in my childhood and hadn’t had them for many years since. Nastutrium leaves added a lovely peppery note, and nasturtium flower butter graced the table.
Grilled Onions, Pork Crisps, Garlic Capers was a delight. Pork Fat crumble! Why have I only had this for the first time now? I am shamelessly going to recreate it at home, and it will frequent my table more often than is right I am sure. The onions were sweet and delicate with a lovely char, pretty cucumber flowers decorated (you already know how much I love edible flowers).
Slow Cooked Egg, Chicken Hearts and Wing, Bread Salad and Pickled Walnuts (picked and pickled in Bethnal Green) was superb. Eggs are so underrated, and I am sad that I didn’t take a photo of the egg once I pierced the yolk. Trust me when I say that it was gorgeous, you would almost want to swim in it. Chicken hearts were like meaty croutons. The flavours mingled and played with each other, it was divine.
Lamb, Cauliflower, Oat Groats was a slow cooked and very tender lamb belly (also called lamb breast), with a gorgeous bright yellow flower (I think a very young courgette flower – I forgot to ask). I struggle with oat groats sometimes, but that’s a personal preference, otherwise the dish was very nice if not my favourite.
Berries, Chamomile Meringue, Coffee, Fruit, Brioche was a spritely dessert. The calming chamomile in the crispy meingue, cosied up to the juicy strawberries, rose petals were pungent and fragrant and perfect with the rest. The coffee jelly gave some depth and smokey undertones. Now that is my kind of dessert.
Coffee from Square Mile was served in gorgeous jacketed glass flasks with chocolate truffles that had a toffee-esque consistency and flavour.
The chefs sat down and chatted with everyone once their service was complete. It was a lovely, intimate evening, with great food and charming hosting. All for a bargain price of £35.
Hello! I’m Niamh (Knee-uv! It’s Irish).
You are very welcome here. Eat Like a Girl has been my place to scribble online since 2007. That’s 14 years of recipes and over 1000 posts to explore.
Eat Like a Girl? It’s simple, we love to eat too. Anything else you’ve heard about women and only eating salad? It’s noise and misogyny.
But, we really love an excellent salad too. Shouldn’t everyone?!
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