Can you pronounce PROSCIUTTO?
This is my absolute favourite way for eating prosciutto di Parma (or Parma ham) - 1 to 2 thin slices wrapped around a slice of rockmelon which has been seasoned with some freshly ground black pepper. The matured sweet and savouriness of the prosciutto offers an interesting contrast to the sweetness of the melon, tinged by the slight spiciness from the black pepper. I will also add that apart from being fuss-free in preparation (no cooking required whatsoever), a platter of these prosciutto-wrapped rockmelon slices looks truly presentable on any dinner table as an appetizer/starter. The best way to eat prosciutto is to eat them raw, thus the reason for them being sold in tissue-paper thin slices.
The first time I presented this dish to my Chinese family though, they looked at the ham and melon slices with suspicion, pondering at the incongruity of these two items together. It is a good thing that my in-laws, being kind and gracious, are wonderfully tolerant of the cooking adventures of their daughter-in-law, and have accepted that dinner invitations at our home may not always end up in a traditional Chinese meal.
Prosciutto di Parma is basically cured ham from Parma in the Emilia-Romagna region in north-east Italy. For centuries, these Italians have taken their raw legs of pork and dry-salted the same with only sea salt in cold cells for at least a month. The salt with the added cold air draws moisture from the ham adding to its preservation. At the end of the first month, the legs of pork are kneaded to allow for better absorption of the salt and then left to cure for a further 2 months or more. The legs are then subsequently washed in tepid water and left in a cool airy environment to dry without smoking for between 8 months to 12 months. Just imagine, that slice of Parma ham on your plate has been left sitting around for at least a year, and yet when you taste it, the meaty flavours of the ham remain distinct and fragrant.
I once saw this episode of Avventura (on Travel & Living cable) featuring Friuli (which is the producer of Prosciutto di San Daniele, reputed to be even better than Prosciutto di Parma), and was suitably impressed by the huge storehouses with thousands of ham legs hanging out to dry. What was truly educational though was seeing a ham curer test the maturity of a leg of ham by first sticking a long sharp needle into the leg in various places and subsequently breathing in the aroma of the ham deposited on the needle! Wonder whether he has a 'stockpile' of descriptive words for his ham, just like a winemaker?
Playing around with some left-over prosciutto, I wrapped them around half-inch slices of salmon (which had been seasoned with freshly ground black pepper and some sea salt), placed them on a baking dish, drizzled some olive oil and popped them into the oven for 10 minutes or so. The salmon slices were quite tasty, but it would be remiss of me if I didn't mention that cooking prosciutto in this manner is not the best way to truly savor the taste of good cured Prosciutto di Parma (some might even say it is desecratory!).
A meatier alternative to the above would be to use bacon slices in place of prosciutto, and to pan-fry the bacon-wrapped salmon slices until the bacon is crisp and the salmon has been browned on its sides. A dash of squeezed lemon juice and the dish is ready to be served.
Oh, by the way, 'prosciutto' is NOT pronounced as 'pros-quit-toh' (a la mosquito), which was how uneducated me tried to verbalize this word in the past, BUT as 'pro-shoo-toh' - I have since been enlightened!