I thought it would be fun to start a new topic on my blog and feature a new ingredient each week that are amongst my favorite things in the kitchen both to cook with and to eat. It seems only apropos to begin with one of the most quintessential of all products that seems to find its way into almost every kitchen, the pig. I'm not talking about bacon, which I must confess is one of my guilty pleasures, but I find it to also be a culinary crutch. People add bacon to almost everything because it is guaranteed to make it taste good. I'm talking about its close Italian cousin, prosciutto.
Much more delicate than bacon, Prosciutto is a cured italian ham that comes from the central and northern regions of the country, most famously from Parma, which incidentally is the home to the famous Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Its flavor is slightly salty, gamey and oh so porky. I happen to love it both raw and cooked. It is the perfect addition to an antipasto platter and it can be a marvelous wrapping for vegetables or meats. It also has an amazing flavor and texture when it is allowed to bake in the oven, rendering some of its fat and crisping it up like a potato chip. This as a garnish on a salad or just about anything is as close to heaven as you can get.
When purchasing prosciutto, make sure to get it very thinly sliced and if you can, purchase it with layers of tissue paper between the slices to make it easier to separate. The high fat content sometimes makes the slices stick together and tear. I also prefer italian imported prosciutto to domestically produced ones although some small purveyors are popping up daily that do have a comparable product in terms of delicate flavor and fat content. One of the better domestic varietals is La Quercia which happens to be right in Iowa. They source only sustainable pork and use organic spices and cures wherever possible.
Here are just a couple of my favorite recipes:
Prosciutto Wrapped Artichoke Hearts with Pesto and Balsamic Reduction
Yields: Approx. 12 Servings
1 Batch Homemade Pesto (See recipe below)
2 Cans Artichoke Quarters (Not Marinated)
12 slices Prosciutto
12 balls fresh Mozzarella (Bocconcini, which are the smaller ones or you can slice a larger ball of fresh mozzarella and cut it into 24 pieces)
Balsamic Reduction to garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice each piece of prosciutto in half vertically and each bocconcini in half. Wrap a half portion of prosciutto around a piece of mozzarella and a quarter piece of artichoke heart. Place on baking sheet. Continue wrapping all of the artichoke heart pieces and mozzarella until none remain. Bake for approx. 10 minutes or until the mozzarella begins to melt.
To serve, place a dollop of pesto over each wrap and drizzle with balsamic reduction.
2 cups of fresh basil leaves
½ cup of toasted pine nuts
1 Tbl minced garlic
Pinch Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 Tbl lemon juice
¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese
¼-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine ingredients in a food processor, except the olive oil. Puree. Begin adding the olive oil slowly so the mix begins to emulsify or becomes thick and creamy. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Prosciutto Wrapped Roasted Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce and Balsamic Reduction
Yields: Approx. 8 Servings
For the roasted asparagus:
1 lb asparagus, trimmed
2-3 tbl olive oil
Pinch salt and pepper
To trim the asparagus, take on stalk of asparagus and snap the end of it off, allowing it to snap where it naturally wants to separate. Trim remaining asparagus to this same spot. Place asparagus onto a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Gently toss the asparagus to coat evenly with the oil and seasoning. Place in a single layer on baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 20 mins or until the asparagus is lightly caramelized and tender. Remove and allow to cool.
For the balsamic reduction:
½ cup balsamic vinegar
Place vinegar into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer until approximately half the vinegar has evaporated. Remove from heat and allow to cool. This can be stored indefinitely.
For the hollandaise sauce:
3 egg yolks
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into thirds
Pinch salt and pepper
1 Tbl lemon juice
1 Tbl water
Place egg yolks, water, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a food processor and puree until lighter in color and slightly thickened. Melt butter and pour hot butter into egg yolk mixture, while pureeing in food processor until thickened and slightly bubbly.
12 slices of prosciutto, sliced in half vertically
Pinch of Paprika
Wrap 2-3 stalks of asparagus with one half slice of prosciutto until all the asparagus has been used up. Place two asparagus and prosciutto bundles on each plate. Drizzle with the hollandaise sauce. Garnish with a drizzle of the vinegar and a sprinkling of paprika. Serve immediately.