Month: December 2012

Italy #5 — Parmigiano-Reggiano for dessert

Leave it to the Italians to keep dessert simple. With its strong umami flavor (second only to Roquefort cheese in glutamate levels), Parmigiano-Reggiano makes everything around it taste better. Following the Italian example, we like to make a plate with a mix of nuts, dried fruit, and fresh fruit. This fall, for example, we paired chunks of a two-year-old buttery summer milk Parmigiano-Reggiano with lightly toasted walnuts, diced apple, and buttered slices of baguette. The extra special touch on each plate was a small cluster of raisins that I brought home from Donnafugata's vineyards on Pantelleria. The Zibbibo grape (Moscato di Alessandria) is one of the few things that grows on this windswept rock halfway between Sicily and Tunisia. (The other is capers.) The picked...Read More

Remembering Italy #4 — pasta with prosciutto & tomato

The last time I was in San Daniele del Friuli, I was traveling with the restaurateurs of Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani (GRI) on one of their annual pilgrimages to Italy to research products, find new sources, and generally take inspiration from the regional products. Since we were a fairly large group, we booked a meal at Prosciutterie DOK dall' Ava (via Gemona 47, tel. 0432-940-280,, open daily 10-10), one of the town's full-service restaurants with a prosciutto-oriented menu. It's a funny place, since it's outside the main village and near one of the prosciutto factories. It looks like a tourist trap, to be honest, and bus groups stop here. But the service and the food are both terrific and the prices, while not cheap, are...Read More

Remembering Italy #3 — asparagus & prosciutto risotto

San Daniele del Friuli is a beautiful little community about 20 kilometers southwest of the big industrial city of Udine, located in the hill country where dry-aged hams are a tradition. Making prosciutto is the principal business of the town – perhaps followed by eating it. Even some of the flower planters in town are in the shape of pigs. Although the Friulani love their asparagus (see my posts from May 2009), the only time I've ever eaten asparagus risotto in Friuli, it was made with white asparagus. The Friulani version was silken and smooth and very pale. Oddly enough, I had often been served cold steamed asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, and Pat and I wondered why we'd never seen a risotto that combined the...Read More

Remembering Italy #2 with pear and prosciutto salad

The Legends from Europe folks passed along a packet of prosciutto di Parma, the most familiar of the Italian raw hams seen in the U.S. and the one most imitated by American and South American producers. To qualify for the PDO label as prosciutto di Parma, the ham must come from pigs fed a special diet and raised in a defined north-central region of Italy. Additionally, the ham must be cured in the countryside near Parma in Emilia-Romagna. Much of the intense flavor comes from applying just enough salt to keep the ham “sweet” and then aging it at least 400 days. (The photo above shows whole hams hanging in a chilled aging room in Italy.) Parma prosciutto is the most intense of the Italian...Read More

Remembering Italy — first with Montasio cheese

With the advent of short days and cold nights, menu planning in my house switches from summer vegetables to the heartier foods of winter. So when the Legends from Europe promotional team ( through Boston last week and bequeathed me a small cache of Montasio, Grana Padano, and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses and a few precious ounces each of San Daniele and Parma prosciuttos, I started recreating some of the great dishes I remember eating in northern Italy. I'm sharing them on the site as a series of four courses. All five products are registered under the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) program – a guarantee of regional authenticity. Accept no substitutes! So-called “parmesans” from Wisconsin or Argentina may be tasty cheeses, but they are not...Read More