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Posts Tagged ‘prosciutto’

Summer is officially here at last! One happy concomitant of that is the increasing abundance of local fruits and vegetables at my Greenmarket. We’d invited a pair of friends to a dinner to celebrate the season, and when I did the shopping for it, a few days ahead, I went way overboard on my purchases: inescapable rapture of the season.

Not everything shown here was for that one meal, but it all looked so good I couldn’t resist. And good it all was, too.

 

Our Italian-themed dinner party began simply, with a few Castelvetrano olives, cheddar cheese sticks (homemade), and cubes of country terrine (not homemade) to go with glasses of aperitif wine in the living room.

 

At the dinner table, we started with that quintessential summer antipasto, prosciutto and melon. It was pushing the season, but I had managed to find a single cantaloupe in the grocery store’s bin that actually smelled like a melon. Its texture was a little too stiff for full ripeness, but the flavor was right.

 

We went on to a primo of risi e bisi, another seasonal classic. This Venetian dish of rice and peas is a close relative of risotto. My version, from Tom’s and my cookbook The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen, includes pancetta in addition to the usual onion, parsley, broth, butter, and parmesan cheese. Quite a substantial dish, and just lovely with young, sweet English peas.

 

Our secondo, also from that cookbook, featured a dish we call Summertime Lamb Stew. It’s lamb lightly braised with tomatoes, pancetta, and chopped aromatic vegetables. Normally it uses fresh plum tomatoes, but in June all we get are greenhouse-grown, so we made it with canned San Marzanos. Sautéed early zucchini and spring onions, lightly scented with mint, made fresh, flavorful companions to the lamb.

 

After a cheese course (which I failed to photograph), we finished with a dessert of raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries in grappa – a recipe from Tom’s and my first cookbook, La Tavola Italiana – and hazelnut biscotti baked and brought to us by our guest Joan.

This was as light and refreshing as you can imagine – a perfect palate cleanser of a dessert.

 

I can’t conclude this post without mentioning the array of bottles that Tom chose from his wine closet to accompany the meal. Here they are at the end of the evening:

They were:

  • 2015 Paumanok (Long Island) Festival Chardonnay as aperitifs
  • 2016 Abbazia di Novacella Gruner Veltliner with the prosciutto and melon
  • 2016 Pra Soave Classico Otto with the risi e bisi
  • 2001 Tor Calvano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with the lamb
  • 2004 Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico Riserva with the cheese
  • 2011 Dogliatti Moscato d’Asti with dessert

I hasten to point out that the four of us did not finish all six wines that evening. In fact, we didn’t finish any of them – just enjoyed the pleasure of tasting the differences from one to the next with each course.  They were still fine the next day, as Tom and I feasted on the leftovers.

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Tom and I were lucky enough to publish two Italian cookbooks back when it was still possible to get book contracts if you weren’t a celebrity chef, a television personality, or a famous cooking teacher (none of which we ever were). Those were fun days, both of us with demanding day jobs, from which we came home in the evening and played intensely in the kitchen, recreating recipes discovered on our travels in Italy. Once the books were in print, however – La Tavola Italiana in 1988 and The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen in 1994 – we didn’t often go back to most of those recipes; we were more interested in exploring new, different ones.

Now, years later, we can open those books and have the pleasure of recalling recipes we had totally forgotten about creating. This week we happened upon one from TSOTIK (as we call it): Tagliatelle al prosciutto. It’s one of those genius-of-simplicity preparations that Italians are so good at. Here’s what we said about it in our published headnote:

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Now that Americans can at last get prosciutto di Parma, this straightforward preparation offers a good way to show off its succulence. You can use domestic prosciutto to make this dish: it won’t be as sublime as it is with the Parma ham, but it’s not shabby with any variety. . . . The dish takes no time at all to make, and the flavors are so simple and pure they really must have fresh egg pasta.

One potential problem: nobody gives you enough fat on your prosciutto these days. At current prices, that’s no wonder, but it’s a false economy; you want that fat for its sweetness, whether you’re eating the prosciutto as is or cooking with it. If your prosciutto is very lean, use a little more butter in this preparation to compensate.

And here is our recipe, which I made for dinner the other day. Essentially, you sauté a little chopped onion in generous amounts of prosciutto fat and butter, add little squares of prosciutto, and toss the contents of the pan with cooked fresh egg noodles, grated parmigiano, and freshly ground black pepper. What could hurt?! Especially since, this time, we had some lovely, richly eggy tagliatelle that Tom had brought back from one of his wine trips to Italy’s Piedmont.

For this meal, I wanted to try a slight change, using a thick cut of prosciutto to make cubes, instead of the flat squares you get from the very thin way the ham is normally sliced. What a big deal that was, for some reason! The first deli counter I went to, an authentically Italian place, categorically refused to reset the slicing machine for a thicker cut. The second place, appealed to, said the only person who knew how to reset the machine wasn’t in the store right now. (As far as I know, resetting involves nothing more complex than turning a dial on the front of the machine.) I approached a third place, therefore, with trepidation.

“Could you possibly . . . ?”

“Sure. How thick you want it?”

So I got my nice half-inch thick slice of prosciutto di Parma, which my knife-wielding husband obligingly reduced to perfect little cubes. As you can see, it’s very lean. It came from the small, back end of the ham, near the bone, where there isn’t much fat. But I keep chunks of prosciutto fat in the freezer when I can get it, so I had some to work with.

Here’s the finished dish:

It was luscious, rich and delicate at the same time, as we remembered it. The prosciutto fat gives the dish a spicy flavor unlike that of any other cooking fat. I’ll say, though, that the cubed prosciutto (after all that fuss to get it!) wasn’t an improvement over the thin squares my recipe calls for. It was a bit too chewy and forceful on the tender noodles. So if you try this dish, don’t bother trying to cajole a person at a deli counter to cut you a thick slice of prosciutto – the ordinary cut does very well indeed.

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Every cook who gives dinner parties needs to have a few genius-of-simplicity recipes available for providing relief in an otherwise-extravagant menu. If you’ll be serving hors d’oeuvre, appetizer, first course, main course, cheese platter, and dessert, you can’t, in charity to your guests, make them all blockbusters.

This week I added to my repertoire a great new appetizer: quick, easy, and delicious, with exactly two components, which are available year-round but especially suited to an autumn or winter menu. Prosciutto-Roasted Fennel is from a brand-new book called The Winemaker Cooks, by Christine Hanna, who owns Hanna Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma County, California. It’s a pretty book, and many of the recipes would qualify, to my taste, as those dinner-party blockbusters. It was a surprise, therefore, to find in the book this utterly simple gem. Here’s how the recipe became part of my dinner plan.

The party would be starting in the living room with Champagne and nibbles: a foie gras mousse; two kinds of Italian salumi, ciauscolo and corallina; frollini al finocchio (tiny ham-cheese-and-fennelseed-flavored biscuits); and toasted hazelnuts.

The pasta course was to be tagliarini all’uovo with a sauce of Tom’s contriving, involving fresh maitake, dried porcini, ground veal, onions, good broth and a little cream. (Sometimes he uses white truffle paste instead of the two mushrooms, but we didn’t have any on hand this week.)

For the rest, roasted squabs stuffed with chestnut puree, accompanied by braised Savoy cabbage. Five kinds of cheese. Spiced pear tart. Chocolate-covered espresso beans. And, of course, to accompany all that food, an array of red wines, coffee, and brandy. Quite a hefty menu.

But I didn’t want to bring people to the table and immediately put big bowls of pasta in front of them. I needed a small, neat, palate-stimulating thing for them to toy with as they settled in for the meal proper. The prosciutto-roasted fennel was just the thing. The salt of the prosciutto and the vegetal sweetness of the fennel danced with each other delightfully and left us all eager to move on to the next good taste.

Unlike most of the other dishes on my menu, this one took hardly any time to prepare. Cut large, trimmed and cored fennel bulbs into fat spears, fold a slice of prosciutto around each one, and roast them for about 15 minutes. (The recipe didn’t even say to oil the baking sheet, but I did, so that brought the number of ingredients up to three!)

You can see how I’m going to be starting a lot of dinner parties this fall and winter.

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