- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Parma ham, or prosciutto di Parma, named for the famous city in the Italian province of Emilia-Romagna, is a ham with a long history.

Today — 2,000 years after Parma hams were first recorded — they are still cured with natural breezes, a minimum of salt and nothing else. The required aging time is one year plus an extra 100 days for hams exported to the United States.

The pigs are pampered with a diet rich in grains and the whey left-overs from Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese production. To preserve the distinction of this classic ham, the production is closely regulated by the Parma Ham Consortium.

The ham is meltingly smooth with a sweet, nutty taste that I loved as a child and still love today. Then it was a delicacy to be served and savored on holidays or special occasions. Then, as now, I love a paper-thin slice tucked into a pulled-apart chunk of crusty Italian bread still warm from the village baker’s oven.

I grew up in a small town in New York’s Hudson River Valley where, luckily, there were enough families of Italian heritage to warrant an old-fashioned bakery with a wood-fired stove and an Italian market in a nearby city where the prosciutto could be purchased.

Today I buy prosciutto di Parma at my local upscale supermarket. Although it seems extravagant — in both price and calories — I serve it in small portions and savor every morsel. In summer, I mince the thin slices and add them to a Tuscan-style rice salad. When fresh figs are available I serve them stuffed with a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano and wrapped in ribbons of prosciutto. I add an old-fashioned tomato salad and fruit for dessert, and the menu is complete.

Then as I sit outside on a warm summer’s evening, feasting on this Italian-inspired menu, and I imagine, if just for a moment, that I am dining on a palazzo somewhere in Italy — or in the backyard of my childhood home in the Hudson River Valley.

Stuffed fresh figs with prosciutto di Parma

4 small (about -inch) hunks Parmigiano-Reggiano

2 to 4 large ripe green or black figs, trimmed and halved lengthwise

2 thin slices prosciutto di Parma, each cut in half lengthwise

Press a piece of cheese into the soft center of each halved fig. Wrap it in a ribbon of prosciutto and place on a serving plate. Enjoy with a glass of crisp white wine.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Tuscan rice salad

1 cup arborio, baldo or any medium or long-grain white rice

Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon plus ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

teaspoon minced garlic

⅓ cup lemon juice

cup thawed frozen petit peas or diced leftover cooked green beans

cup diced cucumber

cup diced red bell pepper

cup diced red onion

2 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts

2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma

Leaves of red or oak leaf lettuce

Parmesan cheese chunks and basil for garnish, optional

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in medium saucepan. Add rice and 1 teaspoon salt; stir to blend. Cover and cook over low heat until water is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Uncover; let cool.

Whisk eggs, 1 teaspoon olive oil, garlic, pinch of salt and a grinding of black pepper in a small bowl. Heat a small, nonstick skillet over medium low heat; add eggs and cook, stirring, until scrambled into large clumps. Remove from heat; set aside until ready to use.

Whisk lemon juice, remaining ⅓ cup olive oil, teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Add cooled rice, scrambled egg, peas or green beans, cucumber, red bell pepper, red onion, pine nuts, parsley and basil.

Snip the prosciutto into thin slivers with kitchen shears and add to the salad. Gently toss to blend. Serve at room temperature.

Line a platter with lettuce leaves. Spoon the rice in the center. Garnish the dish with small chunks of Parmesan cheese and basil sprigs, if desired. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

Tomato, black olive and sweet onion salad

2 large ripe tomatoes (one red and one yellow, if possible), cored and cut into thin wedges

Kosher salt, black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or to taste

sweet onion, cut into thin wedges

cup wrinkled oil-cured black olives

Place tomatoes in a salad bowl. Sprinkle with salt to taste and drizzle with olive oil. Press down hard on each of the olives with the side of a large knife to crush the flesh. Remove the loosened pits.

Add olives and onion to the salad. Add a grinding of black pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 4 servings.

Peaches with white wine

4 large ripe peaches

2 teaspoons sugar

2 cups white wine such as pinot gris or Riesling

Wash peaches and rub dry to remove fuzz. If skin is thick, peel. Slice peaches directly into a serving bowl or 4 wine glasses. Sprinkle evenly with sugar.

Add the wine, dividing into -cup portions if serving in individual glasses. Serve immediately or chill until ready to serve.

Makes 4 servings.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES INTERNATIONAL

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