By Kathy Hunt.
At the holidays the last thing that anyone wants on her overloaded plate is for guests to drop by unexpectedly. Yet, the doorbell invariably does ring and long-lost friends and family do stream in, yearning to catch up over festive food and drink. In these instances ripping open a bag of chips or tumbling peanuts into a bowl just won’t suffice. These situations call for elegant yet quick and uncomplicated appetizers. For these times there is prosciutto di San Daniele.
For the festive holiday season ripping open a bag of chips or tumbling peanuts into a bowl won’t suffice. These situations call for elegant yet quick and uncomplicated appetizers. For these times there is prosciutto di San Daniele.
What makes prosciutto so appealing for harried, last-minute entertaining—or any entertaining—is its simplicity. If you have slices of prosciutto in your refrigerator, you can layer them on a wood cutting board, set out cocktail forks and plates and invite people to help themselves.
When creating prosciutto appetizers, Gaia Filippi of the Italian food purveyor OlioAndOlive.com advises, “Simple uses of San Daniele are probably best. With some fresh burrata, as a summer dish with melon or figs, or simply enjoyed with incredibly fresh bread.” These uncomplicated preparations emphasize the ham’s uniqueness. “The flavor is unlike anything else. Sweet and delicate, you can really taste the effort that goes into its production,” Filippi says. Along with burrata, pick up a wedge of the cow’s milk cheese Montasio, which, like prosciutto di San Daniele, hails from Italy’s Friuli Venezia Giulia region, and goat cheese at your local cheese counter. Add these to your platter of sliced prosciutto and, with that, you have a satisfying cheese and cured meat course.
When you don’t have time to shop for cheese, mound the ham on unsalted crackers or thinly sliced bread. You can also wrap it around plain breadsticks, grissini or lightly steamed asparagus. Should you desire a sweeter coupling, drape it over fresh or dried figs or slices of fresh plums, pluots, nectarines, pears or melons, set out some cocktail picks and tell your friends to dig in.
In Sonoma, California Chef Sam Badolato employs a whole leg of prosciutto for an easy but dazzling antipasto. “I shave the prosciutto off the board and offer it with a combination of cheeses and cured olives. It makes a great presentation,” says the private chef and chef de cuisine at Gourmet au Bay Wine in Bodega Bay. Another appealing arrangement has Badolato partnering prosciutto with ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and locally produced olive oil. During the fall he opts for a straightforward seasonal pairing of cut apples and salt-cured ham. Badolato points out one of the beauties of entertaining with prosciutto. It requires so little effort to taste and look extraordinary.
Another advantage is how smoothly it marries with a host of foods and flavors. Along with goat and Masiano cheeses it goes with bold Gorganzola, Parmigiano Reggiano, Asiago and Gruyere and the milder mozzarella, fontina and provolone. You can spread a mixture of cheeses, salami, San Daniele, olives and smoked fish or pickled vegetables on a platter and serve a classic antipasto misto to your guests. If you have the time for and interest in a fancier preparation, cube or slice the cheeses into rounds and wrap them in prosciutto. Top each with a dollop of fig preserves and present them as hearty canapés.
Although cheese makes a lovely match for salt-cured ham, it is not the only suitable mate. San Daniele prosciutto goes well with such vegetables and herbs as arugula, asparagus, basil, fennel, mushrooms, peas, sage, spinach and tomatoes. Almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, walnuts and chestnuts further enhance its savory taste. For a fast and delicious first course, toss together salads of arugula, young peas, cremini mushrooms and pine nuts or spinach, tomatoes and toasted almonds. Scatter torn prosciutto and balsamic vinegar over the salads and watch your guests’ eyes light up.
Prosciutto di San Daniele complements a range of melons, berries, pomes and stone fruit, too. In fact, if you have fresh fruit and thinly sliced prosciutto on hand, you have all that you need for crowd-pleasing fare.
On days when you have a bit more time to plan and shop, follow the path of Philadelphia restaurateur and Chef Michael Falcone and make flatbreads. Falcone features prosciutto, figs, blue cheese, arugula and sweet balsamic syrup on flatbread.
“I like the texture and that little bit of extra saltiness it adds to the dish,” says Falcone, proprietor of the local, seasonal and sustainably sourced HEART food truck.
Both Falcone and Badolato opt for prosciutto crudo, or raw prosciutto, in flatbreads and other dishes. “It’s a very delicate meat and cooking it makes it super dry,” says Badolato, who likewise makes flatbread using raw prosciutto alongside red and green grapes, Gorganzola Dolce and fresh herbs.
When you stock up on San Daniele, ask the charcutier to slice it thinly. Thin slices ensure that the ham won’t overshadow its subtle or sweet partners. Remember to leave on the fat. Without it the meat will not be nearly as enjoyable. Wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated, prosciutto will keep for 7 days. However, once word gets out about your simple yet delectable snacks, your Prosciutto di San Daniele supply will disappear long before then.
Insalata Caprese and Prosciutto di San Daniele Skewers
Makes 3 dozen skewers
3 dozen 4-inch long bamboo skewers or cocktail picks
3 dozen bite-sized mozzarella balls
3 dozen fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
3 dozen grape tomatoes, washed and dried
3 to 4 ounces Prosciutto di San Daniele, cut into 2-inch strips
Good quality balsamic vinegar, optional, for serving
Taking a skewer or cocktail pick, thread a mozzarella ball onto it, pushing it to the top of the skewer.
Fold a basil leaf in half from tip to stem and then fold it in half again. Place the basil leaf on the skewer, followed by a grape tomato.
Fold a strip of prosciutto in half lengthwise and then fold it over again. Thread it next to the cherry tomato and place the finished skewer onto a serving plate. Repeat with the remaining mozzarella, basil, tomatoes and prosciutto. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over the finished skewers, if desired, and serve.
About the author
Kathy Hunt is a freelance journalist, food writer, author and photographer. She writes for Zester Daily and Kitchen Kat and her latest book is Fish Market, FishMarketBook.com