So there we were in Parma. It was raining. And it was lunchtime. We were looking for place with a welcoming interior in which to have a light lunch. This was proving difficult – many restaurants with extensive roadside terraces had dingy, pokey, decrepit seating inside.
Ahead of us, taking up the full width of the pavement, was a group of ambling, gossiping girls and the Saucy Dressings’ Chief Taster was becoming frustrated. Then suddenly they had slipped into a dark door and the CT was right in there after them.
We found ourselves in a big, buzzing space, bursting with ladies that lunched, businessmen, groups of friends, and individual locals. Music was the theme, opera posters papered the walls, the place mats were old LP records, and the menu was styled with sheet music. The name of the restaurant was La Cucina del Maestro – and the maestro in this case was the Parma born and bred composer, Verdi.
Having settled ourselves comfortably at the last empty table, I remonstrated mildly with the CT for lunging after pretty girls. He wasn’t doing anything untoward he explained, but the girls all looked local and not too well heeled. He reckoned they would be discriminating about where they ate without hitting their pockets too drastically.
We were given the English version menu, and were mystified by one entry which read: ricotta cheese kirsch with cream of black truffle from Fragno. We finally fathomed that ‘kirsh’ must mean ‘quiche’, which turned out to be broadly right except that there was no pastry involved. It was decanted as it were, served unmoulded. It’s not necessary though – if you wanted to you could serve this still in the ramekin.
What is a sformatino?
Referring back to the Italian version of the menu we saw that it was a sformatino. This is a sort of easy, failsafe, not-quite-as-light, Italian way of making a soufflé – a sort of quiche filling without, as I noted above, the pastry.
So in fact what we had was this, and it was wonderful.
Recipe for masterful sformatino di ricotta with black truffle sauce
Serves six as a starter….or you could serve on toast, with a bit more salad, and make it into lunch
- 200g/7 oz ready made black truffle sauce
- 500g/1 lb 2 oz ricotta
- Salt and Indonesian long pepper, or a pinch of Urfa pepper
- 80g/⅔ cup grated Parmesan or Grana Padano (real, not saw dust)
- 4 egg whites
- 3 black truffles – ideally fresh, but the type you get in jars will do
- 50g/2 oz rocket
- 3 tbsp truffle oil
- 2 tbsp thick balsamic vinegar
- Olive oil to grease
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
- Grease six ramekins with olive oil.
- Boil a full kettle.
- In a metal bowl whisk the egg whites to be fairly stiff – ‘soft peaks’ as they say.
- In a smaller bowl mix the ricotta and the Parmesan. Season.
- Mix the ricotta mixture into the egg whites, using a large metal spoon.
- Put two teaspoons of the black truffle sauce into the bottom of each ramekin.
- Pour the ricotta-egg mixture over.
- Put on a baking tin, and pour in the hot water around the ramekins to about halfway up them. Put in the oven for 45 minutes.
- Have six side plates ready. Warm the rest of the truffle sauce in the microwave. Slice the truffles thinly. Cut off the stems of the rocket, and roughly shred.
- Take the ramekins out, loosen with a flexible plastic palette knife.
- Using oven gloves, put a plate upside down over a ramekin and turn over – they will come out easily, but not necessarily complete – don’t worry, cover with a little of the left over sauce.
- Garnish with the rocket and truffle slices, and drizzle over the rocket a little truffle oil and some balsamic vinegar.
Below, listen to Va’ Pensiero, by the maestro – Giuseppe Verdi.