Sunday, February 17, 2008

V-Day Heaven

We all know that Valentine's Day is a mass marketed corporate jackpot, geared towards the lucky couples among us, or unlucky, depending, driving less fortunate single gals into twinkie binges and hapless blind dates with monobrowed geeks who would otherwise be untouchable, only for the sheer terror of being alone on the most romantic holiday of the year.

The thing is, Valentine's Day is romantic – when your lovah isn't spending a ton of money only to take you out to an entirely unromantic and overly packed restaurant, where you can't even hear him whispering sweet nothings to you from across the table. A better bet: stay home, cozy up on the couch, and eat.

Not just anything; eat prosciutto. The fat-laced salty pig heaven is the fastest way to a girl's heart. Preferably on crusty bread, smushed into yeasty crevices with stank bleu cheese, or for milder prosciutto, buttery brie takes it all the way to baconish bliss. Add a spl
ash of bold pinot...holy Saint Valentine.

The sexed-up ham is like country ham sli
ced feathery thin and injected with lust and ocean water. It's an Italian staple, and soon to be one of mine, served traditionally with melon, figs, or fresh mozzarella. But, it's equally divine balled up and devoured by the mouthful, or wrapped around...anything.

And now for some ham history: there are two types of prosciutto (cooked and raw), and most non-Italians think of the uncooked, air-cured variety known as prosciutto crudo. This type of ham has been made in Italy since Roman times, the name coming from the Latin word meaning "dried of liquid." Prosciutto di Parma, the variety most Americans are familiar with, has been praised for its flavor for over two thousand years. Prosciutto di San Daniele also is one of the best. But, every region in Italy that has pigs makes some variety of prosciutto, but depressingly, only a few are available outside of Italy. Oh well, you and I will just have to go for a visit. And, in the meantime, us stateside minions have a few options.

As with all foods, the taste of prosciutto depends on where it comes from. In this case – pigs. And it takes the best oinkers, eating the right foods, to make a perfect ham. Each type has it's own flavors and aromas that make it unique and insanely delicious. The overall process of making any prosciutto crudo is basically the same: trimming the ham (made from the rear haunches) of skin and fat, salt the ham, air cure, grease with salted lard, and then cure for much longer period ranging from 1-2 years, because all good things take, marriage, friendship, wine, prosciutto.

Even though all prosciutto hams share the process that includes salt and air curing, the length of time and the amount of salt used varies among the regional hams as well. The Prosciutto di San Daniele of the Friuli region uses local sea salt in teeny amounts and stacks the hams on top of each other – genius! Delicate Parma and San Daniele hams are considered sweet, and the Prosciutto Toscano of Tuscany is a savory, rustic ham, with the salt accompanied by pepper, garlic, rosemary, and juniper.

We had Parma, from Balducci's, and it was to die and gone to heaven for. Valentine's Day is for falling in love, in my case, with prosciutto, and all over again with my fiance, for bringing home the bacon, or in this case, ham.