A showcase for famous ingredients
This recipe for tagliolini alla parmigiana is inspired by a dish I ate for Sunday lunch in a country restaurant near Langhirano. This is the village where most prosciutto di Parma (parma ham) is made. It showcases the two most famous products of the region: prosciutto di Parma and parmigiano reggiano cheese.
Seasonal and traditional tastes
What I love about this dish is the freshness that the tomatoes bring, making it seem like a late-summer rather than early autumn dish. Tomatoes of all varieties will be going out of season in the next few weeks, so what better way to say goodbye to them? The combination of the prosciutto and the cheese goes back centuries, if not millennia. It’s a comforting taste, a real umami burst, that medieval Italians would have been familiar with and really helps you to connect to the timelessness of Italian cuisine. (The tomatoes of course would have come a lot later.)
Prosciutto di Parma
Prosciutto di Parma is air dried rather than cooked so, in order to preserve the distinctive and complex flavour, you don’t want to cook it. This dish is excellent for that, since the ham is stirred through at the end like type of garnish.
Taglolini is a kind of egg pasta found all over Italy. It’s like a very thin version of tagliatelle and is made in the same way. It’s sometimes called taglierini depending on where you are. If you can’t get it, you can substitute any long egg pasta such as tagliatelle, fettuccine, or linguine but not spaghetti or other pasta which is not made with egg. Use the fresh version if you can as it cooks more quickly. However, all these pastas are available dried too. Check the cooking time if you are using dried pasta because it will be longer than in the recipe below.
Getting a creamy sauce
One of the tricks to this recipe is getting a creamy sauce using the parmigiano reggiano cheese. You can achieve this in the following way. Firstly, don’t drain the pasta, but lift it out of the water using a slotted spoon. This will ensure that some of the water stays on the pasta which will help to melt the cheese. Secondly, keep a little of the cooking water and add it after you’ve mixed the cheese in to adjust the creamy consistency. Be careful to add it a teaspoon at a time though, as you don’t want your sauce to become watery.
We are, sadly, coming to the end of the tomato season but this dish works just as well without them. If you are making it out of season you could also substitute sun-dried tomatoes for the fresh ones. I used datterini tomatoes which are likely baby plums and have an intense sweet flavour. (If you use them, have some extra, since you won’t be able to resist the temptation to eat a few while you’re cooking.) They were originally developed in Pachino a town in Sicily. If you can’t find them, cherry tomatoes will do.
- 4 litres water
- 40g rock salt
- 200g prosciutto di Parma
- 20 datterini or cherry tomatoes
- 5g unsalted butter
- 400g fresh tagliolini pasta
- 200g grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
- 4 leaves of fresh sage, finely chopped
- Bring the water to boil and add the salt.
- Meanwhile, chop the prosciutto di Parma into small strips.
- Cut the tomatoes into quarters, lengthwise.
- Melt the butter in a frying pan. Add the tomatoes and heat through for about five minutes.
- When the water has boiled, cook the pasta according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This should be about 1 minute.
- Remove the pasta from the water using a slotted spoon and place in a bowl.
- Reserve a little of the cooking water.
- Add the cheese to the pasta and stir through adding a little of the cooking water to form a creamy sauce.
- Add the tomatoes and the chopped ham and mix through.
- Serve, garnished with a little chopped sage.