I have just returned from my latest business trip to Milan, a wonderful northern Italian city that is bursting with amazing food and drink. I was working with the California Prune board helping to promote their products to the food service industry. I was asked to create several recipes that I could replicate live on stage for the audience to taste using California Prunes in the various different ways it can be used, ie chopped, puree, concerntrate, whole and powder. During my 1 hour demo slot I also worked with Elizabetha a lovely Italian lady who works with the California Prune board to promote the products in Italy. We together ran a food pairing session explaining what other ingredients can work with California Prunes to help ignite some food for thought on creating new dishes.
Back to the cooking, now I do not suffer from a lack of confidence, lets put it that way ! I decided to cook a risotto for my audience in Milan. Now some people might think this approach what some what risky as Milan is the home of risotto. I felt this was the perfect opportunity to create a dish that was both familiar and innovative. I made a parmesan cheese risotto with pickled California Prunes, roasted pine nuts and crisp Parma ham. I new this would raise a few eye brows, however parmesan cheese, parma ham and olive oil were part of my food pairing session so it was the perfect opportunity to bring the pairing into context and back up my statements. I pickled the chopped California Prunes in red wine vinegar to help cut through the richness of the rice dish, the toasted nuts gave texture, the ham created a crisp umami flavour and the olive oil gave a silky finish the the dish.
Now if I'm honest this recipe was bold and risky to present to Italians let a lone Milanese Italians, but I was thrilled with the response as the loved the recipe and more importantly understood what I was trying to achieve. Below is the recipe for you to replicate I also made a delicious chocolate and California Prune parfait finished with caramelised pistachios.
Parmesan Cheese Risotto with California Prunes and Crisp Parma Ham
Prep time 10 minuets
Cooking time 30 minutes
150g California prunes
50ml red wine vinegar
700ml of good quality vegetable stock (chicken stock can be used if you prefer)
2 tbsp of oil for cooking
1 medium white onion finely diced
300g of risotto rice
150ml dry white wine
75g Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
60g toasted pinenuts
4 slices of Parma ham
25ml Extra virgin olive oil
Cut the California prunes into pieces and place in a bowl with the red wine vinegar.
Leave the prunes for 20-30 minutes to soak up the vinegar.
Place the Parma ham onto a non stick baking tray and cook in the oven until crisp at 160c, it should only take 5-10 minuets, then remove and leave to cool.
Place your stock onto a medium heat and bring up to the boil.
Heat a heavy bottomed pan with a splash of olive oil.
Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes.
Pour the rice into the pan with the onions and cook for 5 minutes to crack the rice, this will help release the starch and make for a creamier risotto.
Pour the stock into the pan a ladle at a time and cook out until the liquid is absorbed into the rice.
Continue to cook the risotto by adding the stock and cooking the rice for approximately 15 minutes or until the rice is al dente.
Make sure the rice is not to dry a risotto should be loose enough to spread across the plate not sit in a ball.
Finish the risotto with the butter and the parmesan cheese.
Season to taste with a little salt and pepper.
To serve spoon thee risotto into the centre of the plate, then tap the plate down against the table, this will help it naturally spread across the plate for a nice surface area.
Spoon over the pickled California Prunes, scatter over the toasted pine nuts and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
Finally finish with the crispy Parma ham and serve.
Chocolate Parfait with California Prune and Miso Caramel
Prep time 20 minutes
Cooking time 2-3 hours (including freezing time)
300ml of Dark chocolate 70%
1 tsp of salt
100g of California Prune puree(chopped and soaked in 1 shot of espresso)
200ml of double cream
3 egg whites
70ml double cream
1 tsp of miso paste
Serve with raspberries and roasted pistachios
To make the parfait, place the chocolate and salt into a mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water.
Meanwhile whisk the egg whites until light a fluffy, then add the sugar a spoon at a time until you have a stiff meringue.
Whip the cream to soft peaks (not piping consistency it needs to drop of the spoon)
Stir the California prune puree into the cream.
Add the cream mixture to the melted chocolate, its really important to add the cream to the warm bowl of melted chocolate not the other way round.
Once the chocolate and cream are fully mixed, add half the meringue and stir together, then add the remaining meringue and fold in this time to preserve the air in the egg white.
Line a loaf tin with cling film and pour the mixture in.
Tap the tin on the work top to make sure it finds all the gaps, then place in the freezer for 2-3 hours.
Mean while to make the miso caramel, heat thew sugar on a low heat until it melted and becomes a golden clear colour, then add the cream and miso.
Turn up the heat and whisk in the butter.
Leave the caramel too cool before serving.