What's in a name? that which we call a ham
By any other name would smell as sweet.*
Ham. Prosciutto. Prosciutto crudo. Prosciutto cotto. Prosciutto di Parma. Prosciutto di San Daniele. Iberico. Seranno. Confused yet? It’s all pork, but that’s like saying wine is just grape juice. This post is sponsored by Prosciutto di Parma and the fine folks at Honest Cooking, and what a tasty post!
One of my first trips to Florence, I saw a man being served a plate of nothing but prosciutto. I thought that was crazy. Who would want a plate of just one thing? Silly me. A fine plate of nothing but exquisite, hand-carved prosciutto is the stuff dreams are made of.
What exactly is prosciutto?
It’s the hind leg or thigh of the pig. The word ‘prosciutto’ is derived from the Latin words ‘pro’ (before) and ‘exsugere‘ (suck out moisture). Bonus point! You know you’ve always wondered how to say ‘moisture sucker’ in a way that sounded totally cool, scientific and could be used in a game of Latin Scrabble.
Back to prosciutto. Traditionally made in winter months, the hind leg is rubbed with a salt and fat mixture, with the salt drawing out the remaining blood and moisture. This takes about two months, then the salt is removed and the meat is left to hang for another period of time. And yes, mold matters when you are curing meat.
This is basic prosciutto crudo, or cured 'raw' prosciutto. Prosciutto cotto is cooked ham, and is the ham you get in delis. You have to specifically ask for prosciutto cotto otherwise the default is prosciutto crudo.
The other variations like Prosciutto di Parma, di San Daniele, Iberico or Seranno indicate where the meat was cured and each have their own set of rules & regulations.
Prosciutto di Parma is one of the best known, and with good reason. It’s a DOP product, or “Protected Designation of Origin”. This means there are complex rules about breed specifications, where the pig is raised, what it eats (those lucky Parma pigs get to eat the whey from Parmigiana cheese making, but not more that 15 liters a day!), how big it is when slaughtered, no nitrates or additives, only sea salt etc.
This all means that each of these types of prosciutto have very different textures and flavor profiles. Prosciutto di Parma is silky, medium salty and has a bit of a nutty finish. Prosciutto di San Daniele is softer, silkier, maybe even a touch sweeter. Iberico ham comes from Spain and is oily and unctuous.
In Umbria, our local prosciutto is more rustic. It’s harder, saltier and an umami bomb. They are all delicious, but it’s our prosciutto of choice in melon season.
However, we aren’t in melon season. It’s holiday season. That time of year when you are either entertaining, or being entertained and you need to bring something delicious to the next party.
Here’s a simple and delicious way to make potatoes. If you use little red potatoes and a chopped parsley as a garnish, it will look extra holiday perfect.
Red Potatoes & Crispy Prosciutto di Parma
Small Red Potatoes
Prosciutto di Parma (1/4 slice for each potato)
Grated Parmigiana cheese
Robiolina or Robiola cheese (it’s a soft white Italian cow cheese)
Finely chopped parsley as a garnish (optional)
This recipe is completely scaleable, which means that it can just as easily be made for two people or twenty people. Figure on 1-2 small red potatoes per person.
You can buy Prosciutto di Parma in packages with the ham already sliced, or at the cured meat counter where it will be sliced for you. My preference is always to have it freshly sliced, but you go with what you can find! And I specifically like Prosciutto di Parma for this dish because it is not overly salty or oily.
1) Preheat the oven at 400F/204C. You want a hot oven.
2) Clean the potatoes with a soft scrub brush under running water. Do not peel.
3) Boil the potatoes in salted water with a good glug of red wine vinegar. (A glug is a unit of measure that means you pour the vinegar while saying the word glug: finish the word, finish pouring). The vinegar helps the potatoes from falling apart as they boil.
4) Cook the potatoes until they are soft and the tip of a knife easily slides into the potato. About 15 minutes depending on the size and freshness of the potato.
5) Drain and let the potatoes cool until you can handle them, then slice in half, lengthwise. If you are using large potatoes, cut into large bite size bits.
6) Layer a baking pan with parchment paper (optional). The pan or dish should be big enough for all the potatoes to lie flat in one layer.
Spread an even layer, about 1/4”/6 cm of the robiola cheese on the parchment paper,
7) Wrap each potato half in a piece of prosciutto. Lay the wrapped potatoes in a single layer on top of the cheese. Generously sprinkle with grated parmigiana cheese. Wrapping each piece of potato, instead of draping the ham over the top means it will be much easier to serve at the table. Just in case you were thinking about taking a little short cut.
8) Bake in a hot, preheated oven until the prosciutto begins to brown and turn crisp. Approx 25 min. Serve piping hot. Using the parchment paper means you can lift the whole finished dish right out of the baking pan and directly onto a serving plate. And the baking pan isn’t full of stuck-on cheese....The dishwasher in the crowd will love you forever.
If you are transporting this dish, assemble it and finish baking at the host’s house. The potatoes are cooked, so you are simply heating and crisping the top.
Onion Variation: In case you can’t find robiola cheese, you could substitute a bottom layer of sauteed onions, lightly tossed with heavy cream. What you want in the dish is a creamy, flavorful base for the potatoes.
Fennel variation: Cut the fennel into bite size bits and use it instead of the potatoes. Plan on baking the dish about 40 minutes to roast the fennel.
*Left over bits of Prosciutto di Parma?
What good luck! Just eat it and you only have to share if you feel like it.
*You could finely chop he prosciutto and saute the bits to make crispy crunchy prosciutto shards that taste great sprinkled on just about everything, probably even Cheerios.
*You can add it to your soffrito.
*Saute a bit of chopped prosciutto and onion, add it to your roasted brussel sprouts, and finish the whole dish with the tiniest drizzle of good maple syrup.
*Apologies to William Shakespeare, and Juliet for corrupting her verse to Romeo.