A bit of Italian Inspiration.

Since January I’ve had up to 4 Italian lessons a week in the hope of being able to guide some of our own Chain Gang Italian tours. Memory has become an issue at the ripe age of 50, but my Italian is beginning to progress very nicely. Le mie lezioni di italiano stanno andando così bene, potrei essere in grado di guidare alcuni dei nostri tour in Italia il prossimo settembre. Which might be bad news for Diane, Sue and a few others!

Recently, in my Friday morning Italian class, we had to translate a recipe for melanzane parmigiana. Obviously this meant I had to go home and cook it, which got me to thinking about Italian food in general, and my favourite Italian food in particular.

So I thought I’d have a go at both the melanzane-parmigiana (aubergine with parmesan) and tagliata, in the hope that a few Chain Gangers might be tempted to try a bit of Italian cooking at home (and decide to come and sample the real thing on our tours of Tuscany and Umbria!).

Tagliata, from tagliare (to cut), means ‘sliced’. The dish consists of steak cut diagonally, across the grain, a sauce with rosemary, pepper, garlic and lemon, and served with rocket and parmesan cheese.

I searched carefully to try and find the most authentic versions of both these classic recipes, and then I headed for the shops. I haven’t repeated the recipes here, but I have included links to the recipes that are closest to what I followed.

1. Melanzane parmigiana.

Melanzane is aubergine, or egg plant, and parmigiani suggests this is a dish from Parma, but that’s a trap for the unwary. A trap that Jamie Oliver falls into, suggesting this is a Northern Italian dish, but that Antonio Carluccio neatly avoids by correctly attributing the dish to the south of Italy.

The most significant tip I came across was to coat the aubergine slices in flour and beaten egg and then shallow fry before adding to the rest of the dish. This worked an absolute treat, I’d recommend it without hesitation.

With that exception, I mostly followed this Jamie Oliver recipe.



I was a bit naughty and added minced beef, but clasically this is a vegetarian dish, basically baked aubergine, tomato and parmesan cheese. It was a great excuse to let rip with my favourite herb, basil. All in all, it was a success. It took a while, but it was easy, looked very professional and was truly delicious.



2. Tagliata.

I first tasted Tagliata in Arezzo in Tuscany. A friend of mine Clélia – half-Italian – particularly recommended it. It was one of the most delicious dishes of my life, and I’ve tried to replicate the experience many times in different restaurants throughout Tuscany and Umbria.

I wish I’d known how easy it was to make it myself! I ended up following a recipe by Heston Blumenthal , which I found on the Waitrose website. I opted to shop at Waitrose, too, so this dish cost an absolute fortune, but it was gorgeous.



Three comments I’d add. The first two are covered explicitly in Heston’s recipe. He says you must start with a very hot pan, and that you should cook for two and a half minutes only, turning regularly. A friend of mine who had never eaten rare steak promised to try it just as the recipe says, and was converted, so I’d urge people to overcome any resistance they might have to pink or red steak, cook exactly as Heston says, a very hot pan, and 2.5 minutes.



My third comment concerns the lemon – I think I overdid it first time around, and second time around I added a little bit less lemon juice and it was even more delicious.

It didn’t take long, was pretty easy to cook, and was absolutely delicious. I think it’s a real signature dish. It looks fantastic, it’s sufficiently unusual, it’s authentically Italian, and it tastes gorgeous. Click on the photo to the right (note that beautiful magnum of Chateau Le Tour de By) and email me if that doesn’t look delicious.

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