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. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Manitoba Tigella restaurant review

Manitoba Tigella on New Oxford Street, close to Tottenham Court Road has a mission to bring Tigella to London’s restaurant scene. A traditional snack to be enjoyed with good company, passed around the table in a basket from friend to friend or between family members, with a glass of wine or a cocktail. 

Tigella is the name given to a special stuffed bread from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. This is the region where some of the most iconic Italian foods come from; Parmesan cheese, Parma ham, Balsamic vinegar. It is also the home of Sangiovese wine and Ferrari cars! 

Once upon a time, terracotta moulds were made to form the tigella, which were baked in the embers of fireplaces of people’s homes, each mould separated by chestnut leaves. This isn’t practical in a restaurant setting, so aluminium moulds are used to ensure the careful uniform cooking of the breads.

The team at Manitoba Tigella have brought authentic moulds back from Modena, and make fresh breads daily.

160 tigella are made each day, in a process which takes a full day to achieve. The yeast culture is made in house, the dough left to prove overnight and the tigellas are baked from 3am, fresh on the premises.

Cocktail supremo Adamo decided we couldn’t just have wine with our food, and put together a special “cocktail flight” showcasing his skills in making both cocktails and non-alcoholic “mocktails”.

Every day there is a specialist cocktail chef at Manitoba Tigella, ready to make something from the extensive cocktail list. You can, instead, inform them what ingredients and flavours you like, and bespoke cocktails will be made accordingly. Or you can take a walk on the wild side, and ask them to surprise you!

Orange Mojito

To go with the tigella starters, Adamo decided to play a riff on the classic Mojito cocktail. His Orange Mojito was a refreshing blend of black rum, sugar, and orange bitters to balance the sweetness of the organic orange juice with mint and lime.
Cucumber smash

Cool and fresh tasting, this light, bright mocktail would have been perfect for hot Mediterranean Summer nights, but was still very much appreciated on an Autumnal evening in central London. Made from lemon peel, lemon pincho, lime juice, cucumber juice and cucumber pieces, refreshing lemonade and cherry, it was a wonderfully hydrating and pleasant long drink.


Our first tigella combination comprised of the “Prosciutto+Stracchino”, home-baked tigella with stracchino soft cheese and Parma ham (£2.20) and the “Burger T”, home-baked tigella with house made burger, confit tomatoes, cocktail sauce and provolone cheese (£3.00).

The tigella breads are uniquely textured, with a crusty, solid outside giving way to a very thin, only just bubbly core beneath. They are not heavy, but small and substantial. They are somewhat reminiscent of Piadina but are small and snack sized. 

Delectably meaty-sweet Parma ham is melt in the mouth perfect, with the delicate soft cheese bringing moisture to this most posh of sandwiches. I think this is a perfect little bite to have in between shops during chaotic Christmas (or other) shopping on Oxford Street. The Burger T is a juicy little slider with tomato tang, creamy sauciness and hot, molten cheese which is a class apart from typical burger “rubber cheese”. Is this due to become the lunch of choice for local workers in the Tottenham Court Road/Oxford Street area? I think so. 

No Beer Tea

Adamo’s next experimental “mocktail” is named, with great humourous flair “No Beer Tea”. It is a tangy concoction of some highly aromatic ingredients. Fresh ginger with ginger beer, apple juice, rose tea, chamomile with a touch of lemon for a citrus tone.

White Cloud

The alcoholic offering, White Cloud is a wine based cocktail, exploring more daring flavours than a mere white wine spritzer. Here, Adamo has combined bone dry Pinot grigio white wine with some Italian rose wine and, as he coyly described it “a secret ingredient”. I was unable to persuade him to reveal it. Herby tones are provided by some basil leaves, homemade basil syrup, lemongrass syrup, soda water, lemon juice, black pepper sprinkle and a symbolic dash of tobacco. I would never have guessed wine and basil could go together, but this is a classy, refreshing cocktail.

Next comes the Avocado King (£7.20), a home-baked tigella with king prawn, Manitoba’s own guacamole and sprout (sprouting seeds, not Brussels Sprouts!) and the Tuna Tigella (£7.60), a home-baked tigella with grilled tuna fish, smoked tomatoes sauce, thyme, mozzarella fior di latte cheese and salad. 

The seared tuna is still red on the inside, giving a wonderful contrast of texture. As you will see from the picture, we had rocket in our tuna tigella rather than micro herbs, perhaps because they ran out earlier in the day and I visited in the evening, but I didn’t think the substitution was a problem at all. The generous amount of king prawns makes the Avocado King an indulgent tigella choice for spoiling yourself. The guacamole is rich, soft and creamy and the mozzarella is top quality.

Main courses were next….

Lamb cutlets (£18.00)

Lamb cutlets with fried polenta and salmoriglio sauce. The cutlets are, before cooking, marinaded in a rosemary, French Timut pepper, marjoram and juniper berry marinade. If I were bigger, I’d have fought my dining partner (my hubby, Him Indoors) for a greater share of this excellent main course. The cutlets are caramelised on the outside, pink and yielding on the inside, just perfectly cooked. The polenta chips are a little crunchy on the outside and soft inside. The salmoriglio sauce is citrussy, herby and perfect with the richly red lamb.

Stuffed quails (£13.50)

This dish is about to be rolled out as a pre-Christmas special. The perfectly cooked little quails are stuffed with pancetta, pecorino cheese, breadcrumbs and garlic. They are covered in a sweet, satisfying Demi glace made with Porto wine. Served with a crispy basket of homemade potato gnocchi with red pesto, golden brown tomatoes (roasted in the oven), pine nuts, garlic and pecorino cheese, this is a perfect alternative to the traditional Christmas Turkey dinner. Try something different, this is special and hugely enjoyable! 

To accompany the main courses came these fascinating “smokey” cocktails, with vapours trapped under glass prior to serving. 

My Grandad's Tree

A fascinating and unpredictable blend of Tequila, lime, tobacco, sugar, chilli syrup, orange juice, lime juice, yellow grapefruit peel, and whisky. It shouldn’t work, somehow it does. I cannot explain why. Adamo’s sense for innovative blending of flavours is daring and ambitious, and he manages to pull this strange combination off. 

Chianti Foam

Chianti red wine, whisky, amaretto and egg yolk make this a strong, rich cocktail with big, bold flavours. A cocktail for adventurous foodies, highly rewarding for those prepared to take a chance on something different and new. It accompanies the lamb very well, with the red wine and amaretto giving warmth and depth.

Finally it was time for the desserts.

Panna Cotta e Fragole (£5.00)

Sweet cream (panna cotta), strawberry coulis and lemon streusel. A delightfully light dessert for those who have over indulged over the previous two courses. Sweet, just set panna cotta, balanced sweet and sour flavours from the strawberry coulis all topped with a crunchy baked lemon crumby crust. A dessert of remarkable simplicity which hides a great deal of skill. 

Manitoba Cream (£5.00)

Sponge cake, custard, strawberries syrup and chocolate cream. Decadent, rich, creamy, dreamy, this is for the diner who has found their second “pudding stomach” (pudding belly) or has shown restraint in their previous ordering. The chocolate cream is fantastic, moreish, sweet and velvety.

Manitoba Tigella has been founded by two brothers, Michele and Nicolas Buono, who clearly have a passionate love of the food of Modena and Emilia Romagna. Their attention to detail in the carefully sourced ingredients, meticulously made Tigella bread and invitingly varied menu make this a great place for a quick lunchtime pit-stop, pre-show quick meal or even a more leisurely blow out. 

The brothers have big plans to make Manitoba Tigella a celebration of food and art. They are art and architecture lovers, and the double level design of the interior of the restaurant is an expression of their interest. Coming in the New year will be some urban art from the famous street art artist Dan Gold. Watch this space!

Snigdha and Him Indoors ate at Manitoba Tigella as their guests. This review represents Snigdha’s honest opinions of her experience. Snigdha has not received any incentive, whether financial or otherwise for posting this review.