Brand Exchange, 3 Birchin Lane, London EC3V 9BW
I was invited to celebrate Italian Republic Day, a day close to my heart, at Brand Exchange – a business members club close to Bank station – and to enjoy a delicious Italian menu featuring Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O., ‘The King of Cheeses’.I was pretty excited as the dishes were being created by Eleonora Galasso, a charming and beautiful Italian food writer, author of “As The Romans Do” and star of Saturday Kitchen, Jamie Oliver and Paul Hollywood’s new series. Eleonora styles herself as a food interpreter and had come to shares her wealth of knowledge on authentic Italian cuisine. Her dishes were based on ‘Aperitivo’ time – that wonderful moment at about 6pm that has spread out from Milan across Italy when you pop into a bar to sample a drink and some little nibbles. Most Italians don’t eat dinner until 9pm and now some don’t even make it that far filling up on delicious Aperitivi! In case you didn’t know there are only 337 producers of Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O. who each create about 25 cheeses a day from raw milk with the only additives being salt and rennet. Armed with the info we set about tasting two differently aged Parmesans. The 18 month cheese has a light colour, some crunch from crystals formed by the amino acid calcium lactate and a savoury ‘umami’ flavour. It’s great for snacking on with a glass of Prosecco, cocktails or sherry. The 30 month was less moist with a more compact texture, a greater intensity and a higher density of calcium crystals. It’s an elegant cheese with notes of walnuts and dried fruit and would be a great match with port.Our starters for 10 were some Parmigiano Reggiano Courgette fritters – rough cut courgette with mint and coriander fried in a beer batter. They were light and fragrant with the cheese adding a welcome saltiness to the batter.Aubergine rolls were stuffed with Parmigiano Reggiano, ricotta and hazelnuts and had a sexy blob of pesto on top. This dish was a huge hit with the assembled journos and bloggers and would make an easy addition to any selection of canapés.Savoury profiteroles with Parmigiano Reggiano and chicory cream were the perfect light bite – just what you want with a drink or seven. And then the main event. Spaghetti with lemon, pepper, Guanciale (pork cheeks), olives, toasted pine nuts and of course Parmigiano Reggiano P.D.O. What did we learn from Eleonora? Firstly that tossing a bowl of spaghetti in a chintzy 50s outfit is a great look. Secondly that you should undercook the pasta by about 3 minutes. Finally that by using some of the starchy pasta water for the spag tossing you give the sauce a rich creaminess that you wouldn’t achieve otherwise.You can see from the close-up that Eleonora didn’t stint on ingredients (especially the Parmiggiano) creating one of the most delicious plates of pasta I’ve tasted.As a surprise ‘dessert’ we had Cantucci biscuits with olives, Parmigiano Reggiano, pine nuts and fennel seeds. This would make a perfect savoury snack but I did crave something sweet at the end of the meal.
So what are you waiting for? Hop down to Cath Kidston and get your chintz on, buy a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano (OK you can call it Parmesan…) and get cooking!