This post is the first of four on the dishes I prepared for our New Year's Eve dinner. I decided to have a bit of fun and, for the occasion, try to put together a nice menu for us and our friends. So I took the chance to try a few recipes that were waiting in my "to try when you feel fit for them" list and also to try and develop my plating a bit inspired by Blue's tips. Following the order in which the dishes were served I will start with our appetiser: grissini stirati con prosciutto e tuiles di Parmigiano Reggiano, i.e. "stretched" bread sticks with dry cured ham and Parmesan chips.
Grissini are quite easy to make. The very important thing is to get a quite dry but very stretchy dough in the kneading phase. For the dough I took:
500 g. Flour (3 and 3/4 cup)
1 1/2 tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Malt syrup
2 Tbs. Olive oil
Enough water to get a firm non-sticky dough (slightly less than a cup)
1 tsp. Active dried yeast
Once the dough was kneaded properly I left it to rise covered till about doubled (ca. 1 1/2 hours). At this point I patted it gently to form a rectangle about 20x30 cm (8x12 in). I cut the rectangle into four pieces (10x15 cm) and each piece in 5 or 6 stripes. Each strip was stretched to become as wide as my oven sheets. Some strips resisted a bit so I moved on to the next ones before continuing to stretch them. Others stretched much more than needed so I had to cut them to size. Unfortunately these bits and pieces can't be kneaded and stretched again so I used them to make a little roll I ate as a snack... baking makes me hungry :-)!!!
I stretched the strips and placed them with about 1 cm distance from each other till my oven sheets (sprinkled with cornmeal) were full and covered the remaining dough to prevent it from drying out. The stretched grissini were brushed with oil and dusted with poppy seeds: next time I'll use some other topping as poppy seeds don't seem to be very "sticky" even when pressed into the dough. I baked the grissini for 20 minutes at about 200C (400F).
I made the grissini the day before the dinner which was maybe not a too good idea as they lost part of their crunch after one day. Therefore I had to "toast" them briefly in the oven before serving. Not a problem as such but the thinnest sections of the grissini became quite crunchy. Well I always learn something new.
The Parmesan tuiles are very easy and quick to make. I took the recipe from a book I got for Christmas, La cucina di Nadia e Antonio Santini, a recipe book from a quite famous restaurant in Italy, "dal Pescatore". You just need some grated Parmesan and a slightly buttered non-stick pan. Take about a tablespoon Parmesan per chip and spread it in the pan. Quickly the parmesan will melt and start to "bubble". Take the pan from the fire, wait just a few seconds and then pick up the chip. I found a toothpick works very well. Put the Parmesan chip on a rolling pin, wooden spoon handle, or similar to give it a curved shape (actually one could play quite a bit with shapes) and to cool it down.
To serve I wrapped some dry cured ham (Spanish Serrano as I could not find Parma ham) on the tips of two grissini and placed them across the plate. On the lower part of the plate I put three Parmesan tuiles and dropped some real 18 year old Balsamico around them.
Apart the few "crunchy" spots in the grissini the dish was well received, at least judging from the speed at which it disappeared :-). I was also quite pleased as afterwards I had to recognise that the dish is a good re-interpretation of a classical Italian style appetiser: the grissini and ham in a classical paring and the Parmesan chips a modern touch. Plus Parmesan and Balsamico are just great together... mmhh.... :-)