Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Cooking with Parma Ham at Food at 52

I was invited to a cooking class at London’s Food at 52 to learn about how versatile Parma ham can be as a cooking ingredient. 

I will confess that my tendency is to eat this gorgeous, slightly sweet and delicately flavoured air dried meat on top of bruschetta, or with melon or just “as is” straight out of the fridge. It is so wonderfully moreish, it is too tempting to just scoff immediately, rather than think of ways of preparing and cooking it. “Serve it up, and now!” was always my philosophy.

Food at 52 runs cooking classes in its cute, fully equipped kitchen. Retro tiles, jars full of ingredients, range cookers and copper pans make this an atmospheric and lovely place to learn about food and cooking and to practice your skills. 

Our tutor for the evening was the effervescent Ursula, utterly passionate about Italian food, cooking, effective cooking techniques and how to shop for ingredients. Ursula taught us how to make the main course Baked aubergine with Parma Ham and the dessert Parmesan Reggiano and Baked pears with Parma Ham, honey and pine nuts. 

Our class had demonstrations from Ursula followed by our own opportunity for hands on action, exactly the kind of cooking class I love. We had our work cut out for us, but were ready for the challenge. 

Ursula advised us that when shopping for aubergines to look for weighty, heavy, firm and glossy aubergines. Our garlic should similarly be weighty and should not be stored in the fridge. The cool of the fridge makes the garlic panic. Sensing it is the end of the year, the garlic tries to attempt one last burst of growth, resulting in sprouting and degradation of the garlic bulb. 

Kavey and Snigdha cooking

Another tip from Ursula is that in Italy as we get into Winter, the amount of garlic put into food is increased to help ward off colds and flu. Very welcome advice for the season. Although I have a feeling my students may not appreciate the unwanted side effects of this tip – in other words the unmistakeable smell of garlic!

Ursula taught us how simple making our own ricotta cheese could be, surprisingly requiring no specialist equipment or ingredients. 

I was fascinated to see how similar the basic method for ricotta was to the making of paneer, the Indian cheese I saw my mum makes when I was growing up. Somehow, despite being separated by many miles, the techniques are so similar. 

I would love to share with you the baked aubergine recipe we made as it was a satisfying, flavourful suppertime dish. None of the preparation steps are difficult, neither are the cooking steps. The dish is one of those wonderful things; tasty, enjoyable yet easy to make. A suppertime dish to revisit again and again, making the most of delicious Parma Ham.


Baked aubergine with Parma ham and Parmesan Reggiano

Serves: 2


1 large aubergine, halved lengthways

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tomatoes, finely chopped

2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste or tomato puree

4 slices Parma Ham, chopped

6 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Freshly ground black pepper

2 bunches cherry tomatoes on the vine


1.           Preheat the oven to 190°C, fan oven 170°C, gas mark 5

2.           Using a sharp knife and a teaspoon, scoop out the flesh from the aubergine halves, leaving the skin intact. Chop the flesh finely

3.           Heat the olive oil and gently fry the chopped aubergine, onion and garlic for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the tomato paste or puree, Parma Ham and 4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Season with black pepper

4.           Arrange the hollowed-out aubergine halves in a lightly greased baking dish. Pack the tomato mixture into them and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese on top. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, adding the cherry tomato bunches after 15 minutes. Serve at once

Tip for cooks:

The filling mixture is very versatile – another time, chop the entire aubergine and use the mixture to fill peppers, marrow or courgettes. 

(Recipe Credit to The Dialogue Agency)

Snigdha attended the Parma Ham cooking class at Food at 52 as a guest. Snigdha’s write up represents her genuine opinion of the class. Snigdha has received no incentive, financial or otherwise for this blog post. 

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