By Jacqueline Raposo.
When it comes to high-class entertaining at home, simplicity is key. Why employ elbow grease and exhaustion when pristine ingredients can impart impeccable flavor, texture, and experience for you, right? The trick lies in knowing how to pair those ingredients together. How do we get sweet, salty, crunchy, and creamy on a plate with a lot of flavor and little fuss?
To start, we look to San Daniele Prosciutto.
In the extreme north-eastern part of Italy is the province of Udine; within that province lies the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, and the city of San Daniele del Friuli. There, pigs – born, bred, and slaughtered in Italy – are broken down into hams, wrapped with sea salt, pressed, rested, rinsed, smeared with lard, hung, and cured into the most beautiful prosciutto in the world.
For thirteen months, these beautiful hams rest where humidity, temperature, and ventilation are controlled and constantly monitored. The lush landscape of the region – where mineral-laced soil meets winds blown down from the Alps and up from the Adriatic Sea – infuses the meat with salty and briny flavors. Because of their sea-salt bath and exemplary curing conditions, no other preservatives are needed. The resulting prosciutto is sweet, delicate, salty, and rich all at once, making it the perfect starter to a celebration.
“Prosciutto is a wonderful example of how simple is best,” says Fitz Tallon, the Executive Chef of Eataly in New York City. “At Eataly we have an obsession with prosciutto, and respect that it tastes the way it does because it has been altered so little.”
A massive Italian retail market in New York and Chicago (with markets soon to come in Boston and Los Angeles), Eataly sells imported Italian products like delicate Burgundy truffles, black garlic, pasta and tomatoes, and pesto and tomato sauces from Liguruan, along with high-quality local meat and the most stunning local produce. They also play home to a collection of restaurants, classes, events, and catering, headed up by Chef Tallon and overseen by chefs and Eataly partners Mario Batali and Lydia Bastianich.
There, Chef Tallon puts San Daniele Prosciutto to good use, especially when it comes to simple and stunning appetizers.
For a quintessential, classic hors d’oeuvre, try a crostini. Take a rustic loaf of bread, full of delicious pockets of air and with a nice chewy crust, slice it into thin rounds, and toast until crunchy. During warmer months, Tallon slathers the toasts with soft ricotta and thin slices of melon before topping with a gentle fold of prosciutto and a drizzle of rich, sweet balsamic vinegar. As the seasons change, work with a fruit that speaks to you, either pulling in thin slices of soft ripe fruit or dollops of natural jams and preserves. Then finish with prosciutto and balsamic, and garnish with a light chop of fragrant herbs. Altogether, the crostini balances rich, sweet, salty, and acidic flavors, with creamy and crunchy textures, too. Bonus – you can toast the bread rounds ahead of time, and then pull everything else together quickly just before serving!
For another variation, roll up some frozen puff pastry and bake into long breadstick shapes or buy ready-made imported grissini. Wrap one end with a thin strip of prosciutto, and then stand upright in a long glass for a dramatic display perfect for balancing out sweet, bracing cocktails. For a healthy, gluten-free version, wrap the prosciutto around very lightly blanched asparagus spears, and arrange on a platter drizzled lightly with creamy Hollandaise.
For seated dinner parties, use crisped prosciutto to elegantly top soups and salads.
Preheat your oven to 350d and line a sheet tray with parchment paper. Lay the prosciutto flat, and bake for 13-15 minutes, until fairly crisp. Cool completely, and then break into rough chip shapes. Use these to finish cold fruit soups, gazpachos, or simple salads where only a few large, colorful vegetables take center stage.
Prosciutto can be crisped and wrapped and worked into many other dishes, but our mantra of simplicity is key suggests that “the best way to enjoy it is eaten plain, immediately after it’s been sliced.” So suggests Dino Borri, the Head Buyer for Eataly. “It’s not easy to be simple, and this is simply the best.”
In that light, for the simplest way to present a stunning appetizer, think about the kinds of flavors you love to eat together in one bite: the sweetness in a piece of ripe melon or peach; the tart crunch of an apple slice; the flavor and funk of so many kinds of cheeses; the satisfying crunch and chew of bread; the salty variations of roasted almonds, cashews, and macadamia nuts; the allure of dried apricots and cherries. Collect a few of the ingredients that make your heart happy, and then serve them alongside slices of San Daniele Prosciutto.
“Italy has so many excellent products, but San Daniele Prosciutto is one of the most special” Borri continues. “It’s one of the few salumi allowed to be imported into the United States, to it’s a wonderful chance to get a true taste of Italy.”
Jacqueline Raposo writes about the culture behind food and the people who make it. Read more at www.wordsfoodart.com and on all social platforms as @wordsfoodart.