Husband and wife team Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi are well known for their eponymous Italian restaurant and caffe in London, their second restaurant in Bray and their London cookery school, La Cucina Caldesi, at which Katie is the principal. The couple also starred in a BBC series called Return to Tuscany, about the cookery school they ran in Italy until 2009 and have appeared on many other food shows since then.

CaldesiCheeseGnocchi-5

The Amalfi Coast is their second joint book, following The Italian Mama’s Kitchen (2008). Whereas Katie’s solo book, The Italian Cookery Course (released at about the same time as The Amalfi Coast) covers recipes from across the entire country, The Amalfi Coast focuses on the food of the sunshine-drenched Italian Riviera. Full of sumptuous images of local scenery and food, it’s an evocative cookery book following the route of their exploration, between Positano and Ravello.

Flicking through it takes me back to a long ago holiday… winding and rather exhilarating coastal roads… tiny villages clinging to vertiginous cliffs… views down to sparkling seas with bobbing boats tied at the marina… groves of lemon trees, bright and colourful like the limoncello served in every restaurant and cafe… smartly dressed locals enjoying a pre-dinner stroll to see and be seen… and long and leisurely lunches that last so long they morph into dinner…

CaldesiCheeseGnocchi-6

We decided to make the Caldesis’ Gnocchi Ripieni (smoked cheese gnocchi) recipe mainly because we already had smoked cheddar in the fridge after making Gastrogeek’s (Amazing) Roasted Aubergine Macaroni Cheese recipe. We loved the gnocchi so much we have made it more than once and no doubt it will become a regular. (Same goes for the macaroni cheese recipe too!)

The gnocchi are so incredibly soft and light that they melt as soon as you pop them into your mouth; it’s a wonder they don’t disintegrate before you can eat them! The recipe introduction explains that the way the centres melt is what gives the impression they are stuffed with cheese, hence the Italian name – ripieni means “stuffed”. They are quite unlike potato gnocchi, by the way.

The flavour is beautifully balanced and not too strong; they match superbly with a simple tomato sauce. We’ve used posh ready-made and made fresh using another recipe in the book.

And best of all, they’re very easy to make. A winner all round!

CaldesiCheeseGnocchi-0139

 

Giancarlo & Katie Caldesi’s Smoked Cheese Gnocchi

Serves 4 (makes 12-20 gnocchi)

Ingredients
250 grams ricotta drained
1 egg
35 grams plain flour
50 grams parmesan finely grated
25 grams smoked cheese finely grated
salt and freshly ground pepper
basil leaves (to serve)
parmesan shavings (to serve)
tomato sauce of your choice (to serve)

Note: The recipe also includes 50 grams semolina, used to coat the gnocchi, which we omitted.

Method

  • Mix the gnocchi ingredients together in a bowl, using an electric whisk or mixer to achieve a smooth texture.

CaldesiCheeseGnocchi-1 CaldesiCheeseGnocchi-2
CaldesiCheeseGnocchi-3

  • To shape the gnocchi use two spoons and make quenelles – take a spoonful of mixture and use the second spoon to shape it, squeezing and transferring it between the two spoons one or more times to finish the shape.

CaldesiCheeseGnocchi-7

  • The recipe calls for rolling the finished shapes in semolina before cooking. However, we decided to drop each gnocchi into a pan of boiling water as soon as it was shaped, without the semolina.

CaldesiCheeseGnocchi-9 CaldesiCheeseGnocchi-10

  • The gnocchi are cooked when they float to the surface, having dropped down to the bottom of the pan initially. Remove them carefully from the pan using a slotted spoon and transfer them to the pan of pre-heated tomato sauce to stay warm until the rest are ready. Ideally, this needs two people working together, one to shape and drop the gnocchi and the other to scoop them from the water as soon as they are cooked.

CaldesiCheeseGnocchi-6

  • Very gently mix the cooked gnocchi into the sauce, taking care not to break them.
  • Garnish with fresh basil and shavings of parmesan to serve.

CaldesiCheeseGnocchi-0151 CaldesiCheeseGnocchi-0273

The book contains little you wouldn’t find in many Italian cookery books, and most of the dishes are familiar, but for me that’s much of the appeal. Recipes such as paccheri alla Genovese (pasta tubes with sweet onion and beef sauce), polpettine di carne al sugo di pomodore (meatballs in tomato sauce), pollo al limone (lemon chicken), zucchine scapece (fried courgettes with mint and vinegar), torta di ricotta & pere (pear and ricotta tart) and sorbetto o granita al limone (limoncello sorbet or granita) are the kind of food that fit my kind of cooking.

Nearly every recipe has a photograph, and there are more in between of the landscapes and people of the region. It’s an attractive book, a pleasure to look at.

The Amalfi Coast is currently available from Amazon.co.uk for £16 (RRP £25).

 

Kavey Eats received a review copy of The Amalfi Coast from publisher Hardie Grant.

 

We packed a lot of excellent eating into our short trip to Parma, where we discovered the origin of Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Masticabrodo

Parma-8342_thumb Parma-8335_thumb Parma-8337_thumb
Parma-8334_thumb Parma-8348_thumb

Situated in Pilastro, a small rural village about 15 kilometres from the centre of Parma, is a small trattoria-osteria called Masticabrodo. The village is virtually in the shadow of the impressive Castello di Torrechiara (built in the 15th century by a local noble) and right in the heart of Parma ham country.

Parma-8389_thumb Parma-8390_thumb

A family business with a warm and personal welcome from Ida, Francis and their staff, the restaurant’s menu is simple and traditional. Daily specials are scribbled onto plates.

Parma-8510 Parma-8511 Parma-8385_thumb

Bread is served in paper bags and local wines are very much in evidence.

Parma-8386_thumb

To start – what else but some fantastic Parma ham, sweet and satin soft? And bowls of pickled vegetables, a nice sharp contrast.

Parma-8512 Parma-8513

Most of us at the table ordered the tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms. The treat was that the mushrooms were plump and fresh (not rehydrated dried ones) and lifted this simple dish to very heady heights. It was one of the best plates of pasta I’ve ever had.

Parma-8515

With our meal, the wine drinkers stuck to local tipples and were particularly surprised (in a good way) by a sparkling red Lambrusco from the Marcello winery.

Parma-8521 Parma-8518

Out came some aged Parmesan cheese.

Parma-8523 Parma-8524

And somehow we still found room for dessert. A plate of local sbrisolona was suggested and duly ordered. I didn’t regret my choice of thick, sweet crema di zabaglione amaretti, incredibly rich but awfully good.

Parma-8526 Parma-8529

This is exactly that kind of small, rural family trattoria that you dream about stumbling across and which happy food and travel memories are made of.

Gran Caffè Orientale

Located in Place Garibaldi in the heart of the city, the Gran Caffè Orientale is a Parma institution that has been serving happy customers since 1893.

Parma-8605

In the shimmering heat of a July evening, we appreciated our outdoor table, surrounded by the buzz of fellow diners and those traversing the beautiful square itself.

Parma-8492 Parma-8493

To start, the ubiquitous but perfect selection of local charcuterie and cheese served on a large chopping board (15 €).

Parma-8483

Next, pasta or risotto. I opted for a local speciality of tortelli verdi con spalla di San Secondo burro e salvia (9.5 €). Simple, fresh local ham sausage with a freshly made pasta. I didn’t love the ham sausage as much as I adored Parma ham and Culatello (both in the charcuterie selection) but did enjoy the dish.

Parma-8491

I don’t recall which risotto some of my friends chose but I do recall tasting it and thinking it utterly delicious! And isn’t that a gorgeous view?

Parma-8488

For my main I was dithering between the horse tartar with salad and a fillet steak with balsamic vinegar (also made in the Emilia-Romagna region).

When two of my friends said they were ordering the horse and I could taste theirs, I went ahead and ordered the filetto di manzo “blonde Aquitane Francese” all’aceto balsamico (21 €) and I certainly wasn’t sorry. It was a beautifully tender steak, cooked medium-rare as requested, and with the most fabulously rich and tasty balsamic sauce giving a wonderful sweet sour balance. Yes, it looked like the Exxon Valdez had run aground on my plate, but I can tell you, every one of us at the table agreed it was a superb dish!

Parma-8497 Parma-8499

The tartara di cavallo con insalatina di stagione (10 €) was also really enjoyable. It didn’t have a distinctly horsey taste – not sure what I was expecting really – but was perhaps slightly gamier or just more savoury than beef.

Parma-8496 Parma-8498
Parma-8501

Desserts were a bit of an after thought though we bravely persevered. I forgot to note down our choices but you can see that we had a (large) fresh fruit salad with ice cream, a rich chocolaty thing (which had decent taste but wasn’t nearly moist enough for my taste) and another cakey patisserie thing which I’ve completely forgotten though I have a feeling it was my own dessert!

Parma-8506 Parma-8508 Parma-8509

That’s not necessarily a damning indictment of the desserts so much as an indication of how satiated we already were from the charcuterie, primo and secondi courses not to mention tired after our long day getting to Parma.

I often avoid places like this, located in the main tourist drags such as this magical square, convinced they will be over priced and underwhelming, relying on their location for custom.

And of course, the Gran Caffè Orientale proves me completely wrong, as both we and the many happy tables of local customers can attest.

Ristorante Cocchi

Ristorante Cocchi is another Parma institution, having been going strong since 1925. Located in the Hotel Daniel at the intersection of Viale Antonio Gramsci and Strada Abbeveratoia, it’s not quite as attractive a part of town as the Place Garibaldi but once settled inside, we focus instead on walls jam packed with paintings in a very wide range of styles and then on menu, food and friends.

Parma-8700 Parma-8701
Parma-8704

Out first, once again, were plates of Parma ham and Culatello (13 €) and some parmesan cheese. This time they were served alongside torta fritta (2 €); these squares of fried bread dough are a traditional local accompaniment to charcuterie. We folded thin slips of Parma ham, thick slices of Culatello and chunks of cheese inside the naughty pockets of dough for a delicious shared starter.

Parma-8711 Parma-8712 Parma-8714

Torn between the Tortelli d’erbetta (pasta stuffed with ricotta cheese, swiss chard and Parmesan cheese), the Tortelli di zucca (pasta stuffed with pumpkin and Parmesan cheese) and the Tortelli di patate ai porcini de Borgotari (pasta stuffed with potatoes and Parmesan cheese, in Porcini sauce) I was delighted to spot the Degustazione di Tortelli (10 €) which gives me a tasting of all three.

Parma-8715

The ricotta, herb, swiss chard and Parmesan parcels were pleasant. The filling was subtle but worked nicely with the very fresh pasta and grated Parmesan.

Parma-8719

I didn’t love the parcels stuffed with potatoes and Parmesan cheese and served with a Porcini sauce. They were OK, but missing the wow factor of that simple tagliatelle with fresh porcini mushrooms at Masticabrodo.

Parma-8716 Parma-8720

The pumpkin and Parmesan parcels were incredible. I think there may also have been mention of Amaretti biscuits included in the filling too, though I may be mistaken. The flavour of the pumpkin was rich and sweet; the Parmesan cut through it just a little. But overall I found them awfully sweet for a savoury dish and would rather have ordered them as a dessert, for which I think they’d be perfect.

Parma-8717 Parma-8721

Fairly full after our shared starters and primo dishes, we discussed whether or not to have a main, keen to try more traditional dishes but worried we’d not be able to do them justice.

Luckily, a helpful member of staff came to our rescue and suggested, for the two of us thinking of ordering the stracotto di guanciale di manzo alla parmigiana (13 €) that they plate up half a portion of the dish for each of us. This Parma style pot roast was a rustic dish, the kind of dish I imagine has been cooked in homes across the region for many, many generations. Satisfying, though better suited to a cold winter’s day than the July heat we were experiencing.

Parma-8722

We had a good meal at Cocchi and service was attentive and helpful. I’d be happy to dine there again. But for me, the more formal setting didn’t win me over quite as much as the family welcome at Masticabrodo and the beautiful historical setting and especially friendly service at Gran Caffè Orientale.

Parma-8725 Parma-8727

 

In a recent post about Parma ham, I explained about my invitation to learn more about the production of two of Parma’s most famous products – the ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano, parmesan cheese.

Parma-8394

You can read a little more about what it means to have a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status, in that previous post.

Below are some images from the parmesan cheese producer we visited; a visual walk-through of the production process.

 

Making Parmesan Cheese

Parma-8399 Parma-8434
Parma-8412 Parma-8415

Fresh raw cow’s milk is delivered to the cheese producers daily. A whopping 600 litres of milk is needed to make a single 38 kilo wheel of cheese!

The PDO regulations cover raw ingredients; the cows that produce milk for Parmigiano-Reggiano must be fed on a regulated diet of fresh grass, hay and grains.

A starter of natural fermenting-whey is added to the milk, which is stirred regularly and slowly heated to 33°C.

Parma-8418 Parma-8413
Parma-8425 Parma-8428

Calf rennet is added to the milk.

The curd that starts to form is broken up into small fragments using a sharp-edged tool known as the spino (thorn-bush), a spherical metal cage on a stick.

The temperature is raised to 55°C.

Parma-8426 Parma-8443

I love this cheeky image of the head cheese maker in his shorts. Hygiene is critical to the cheese making process.

Parma-8549 Parma-8550 Parma-8551
Parma-8553 Parma-8555 Parma-8556 Parma-8557 Parma-8566
Parma-8575

With practised skill that is mesmerising to watch, the curds are enclosed and lifted into a cloth, using a large paddle. Two men then carefully tilt and roll the curds within the cloth to form a rounded mass, which is then tied to poles and left hanging within the vats, which are drained of the remaining liquid.

Parma-8560

Even with most of the whey drained away, what I can’t see is the bell shaped bottom of the copper vat which sits below ground level where it is heated and cooled by steam and water.

The whey by-product is used to make ricotta or fed to pigs, with a small batch retained and allowed to ferment, for use as a natural starter for the following day’s production.

Parma-8564

At this stage, the warm loosely-packed fresh cheese tastes very bland, just like home-made paneer, actually.

Parma-8600 Parma-8603
Parma-8447 Parma-8453 Parma-8588 Parma-8450

Using a crane, the individual masses of curd are lifted out of the copper vats and carefully placed in fascera (circular moulds) for pressing, enclosed in fresh white fabric. A plastic forma is slotted in to line the moulds, imprinting the soft curd with all the relevant information about the producer and date, plus the familiar Parmigiano-Reggiano repeated around the circumference of the cheese. The moulds are tied and pressed using wooden blocks and ropes that can easily be tightened.

Parma-8586
Parma-8604 Parma-8608 Parma-8610
Parma-8545

Bar code information, printed onto disks made of casein, is pushed against the surface of the cheese and batch information is written by hand onto each wheel.

Parma-8463

The cheeses are turned and allowed to set for a few days.

Parma-8458 Parma-8456 Parma-8473 Parma-8459 Parma-8462
Parma-8475 Parma-8461

Next, the cheeses are soaked in salt water for 20-25 days. The salt within the brine penetrates the cheeses very slowly, and continues to work its way to the centre during the next several months.

Parma-8497 Parma-8487 Parma-8490
Parma-8499 Parma-8526

Finally, the cheeses are transferred into the cascina (maturing room) for a minimum of 12 months and as long as 30 months.

Parma-8517 Parma-8527

Cheeses are checked regularly. An inspector uses a special hammer to tap all over the surface of the cheese. Imperfections reveal themselves by a change in tone, that practised ears can easily detect.

Cheeses which pass inspection can be branded with the official logo of the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano (a consortium that authenticates the production and standards of the cheese, represents all the producers, assists with marketing and trade and of course, defends the PDO status).

Those which have not ripened evenly are scored horizontally around their circumference, to mark them as having failed to meet standards. These cannot be sold under the Parmigiano-Reggiano name but there is a strong demand in Italy for the younger, softer cheese which is sold as Mezzano.

Parma-8524 Parma-8530

As the specifications for Parmigiano-Reggiano are very rigid, some cheese producers also experiment with variations, which they brand and sell under different names.

Parma-8584 Parma-8615

As an ardent cheese-lover, I really enjoyed the opportunity to witness how traditional Parmigiano-Reggiano is made, not to mention the chance to sample top quality cheeses of different ages.

The youngest Parmigiano-Reggiano available to buy has been matured for 12 months. You can also look out for red stamp wheels, which have been matured for 18 months or longer, silver stamp wheels which have been matured for 22 months or longer, and gold stamp Parmigiano-Reggiano which has been matured for a minimum of 30 months.

Longer maturation results in a stronger flavour and a drier, crumblier and grainier texture.

I will be sharing some recipes making use of Parmigiano-Reggiano soon.

 

A few weeks ago, I was invited to Parma by Discover the Origin, to learn more about the production of two of Parma’s most famous products – Parma ham and parmesan cheese, known locally as prosciutto de Parma and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Both have PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status, which means that only products made in the area, to very strict and specific rules, can be labelled as Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Our small group were invited to take a tour of two producers, where we learned about all the stages of production of these two very traditional and delicious products. Both Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano have been produced for many, many centuries employing methods that have been honed over time and handed down from generation to generation.

The PDO rules not only control methods of production but also the source and quality of ingredients. There are also very strict quality assurance processes that ensure that any products that don’t quite match the standards, even if they’re pretty darn close, are not permitted to be sold under the PDO names.

We discovered, in the two factories we visited, that producers today are carefully combining modern technology with traditional methods. The advantages to modernisation include being able to more carefully control conditions to produce a more consistently excellent product, and being less dependent on the weather – for example modern refrigeration rooms can produce the exact temperature and humidity conditions that were once only possible during winter.

You can find out more about the stages of creating Parma ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano at the Discover the Origin website.

Below are some images from the Parma ham producer, and a walk-through the production process. I’ll post about Parmigiano-Reggiano soon.

 

Making Parma Ham

The pork, which must be born, raised and slaughtered in authorised farms and slaughterhouses in specified regions, is delivered on a regular basis.

The maestro salatore (master of salt) takes the fresh pork, puts it through a machine that applies a salt wash and massages the meat, and then carefully applies dry salt by hand.

Parma-8212

Parma-8216 Parma-8217 Parma-8219

Parma-8221 Parma-8226 Parma-8231

Parma-8232 Parma-8233 Parma-8229 Parma-8213

Parma-8235 Parma-8236

The hams are then stored (in temperature and humidity controlled rooms) for a about a week. Residual salt is removed, another layer applied and they are stored again for another couple of weeks. The maestro salatore checks and adjusts them daily to ensure that just enough salt is absorbed to cure the meat without making it excessively salty – Parma ham is known for it’s sweet flavour.

The hams are then hung for 70 days, during which the meat darkens. (It returns to a pale pink colour towards the end of the curing process).

Parma-8242

Parma-8240 Parma-8246

Parma-8248

The hams are washed with warm water (in enormous showers that look like car washes), brushed to remove excess salt and then hung in drying rooms.

Parma-8264

The next stage is the initial curing, in large ventilated rooms that recreate the conditions in the open-windowed upper floors of local houses, where hams were traditionally hung to cure over winter. This phase lasts about three months, and by the end of it, the exposed surface of the meat has dried and hardened.

Parma-8270 Parma-8278

Parma-8274 Parma-8276

Hams are marked at various stages of the process. There is a mark to show the originating farm where the pork was bred and raised, and one to show the slaughterhouse where it was butchered. The Parma ham producer also marks the ham, buying special metal pins from The Parma Ham Consortium, that are stapled into the hams.

The consortium was set up in 1963, on the initiative of 23 producers who wanted to find a way of safeguarding the genuine product and image of Parma ham. The PDO was awarded in 1996, one of the first agreed by the EU for a meat product. There are now nearly 200 members and the consortium is a marketing as well as quality assurance body.

Parma-8282 Parma-8283

Next, the exposed surface is softened and protected with a paste of minced fat, salt and pepper.

Parma-8300 Parma-8302 Parma-8304 Parma-8307

The hams are then hung again for their final curing, which lasts between 12 and 30 months.

Parma-8284 Parma-8288 Parma-8298

Parma-8253 Parma-8293 Parma-8296

After 12 months curing, an inspector from the Istituto Parma Qualità (an independent quality assurance body) checks every single ham meticulously, to ensure that it meets standards.

We watched an inspector at work, piercing each ham in at least five spots using a special horse bone needle and sniffing the needle after each puncture. The needle itself is quite specialist; horse bone is porous to just the right degree that it takes in the smell from the piercing, holds it long enough for the inspector to smell it, but allows it to dissipate before the next piercing. The speed at which the inspector worked was impressive!

Parma-8319 Parma-8313

Parma-8326

Working alongside the inspector, others apply additional fat to complete the protection of the hams.

Parma-8316 Parma-8318

Parma-8324

Only hams which pass the test are then fire-branded with the Parma ham mark.

Parma-8291

During my short stay in Parma, I sampled quite a bit of Parma ham and really appreciated being able to learn about how it is created. I hope to share some great Parma ham recipes with you in coming weeks.

© 2006 - 2014 Kavita Favelle Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha