Prosciutto is the Italian term for a salt-cured ham. The most celebrated examples are Prosciutto di Parma, produced from pigs raised within a small, 11-region area-notably Emiglia-Romagna and nearby Lombardy, Italy.
Aside from a rear leg of pig, the ingredients are salt, air and time. But if the formula is simple, the process is painstaking and vigilant. In a carefully timed series of steps, hams are massaged with sea salt, hung to dry, transported from airy lofts to moist cellars, then remoistened with fat or a bath in the local wine. The process takes 18 months or more.
Italy makes two types of prosciutto: crudo (raw) and cotto (cooked), but crudo is the treasured morsel. It self-sterilizes in curing so no cooking is required, and in northern Italy, it's rarely used in recipes. Rather, it's savored in an antipasto, thinly sliced and accompanied only by bread.
Italian prosciutto ranges from pink to dark rose, with a mild flavor and silken texture. U.S. producers now make some nice prosciuttos, although they tend to be saltier than Italian prosciutto. The Serrano ham of Spain is a similar artisan product, and with the right connections, you may find a salt-cured country ham from the Southeastern United States, although most country hams are smoked.
Pounding chicken breasts helps them cook evenly. A quick sautee keeps them moist. Due to the size of the pounded chicken, you'll need to use an extra-large skillet or to cook the chicken in two batches.
> Crispy Herbed Chicken with Prosciutto
4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
4 thin slices prosciutto ham
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Sprinkle one side of each chicken breast with salt, pepper, lemon rind, thyme and cheese. Top with prosciutto slices. Cover with plastic wrap and, with a meat mallet, pound each to 1/4 -inch thickness.
Heat oil and butter in a nonstick skillet. Add chicken, prosciutto side down; cook 4 minutes or until crispy. Flip chicken over; cook 2 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges. Serves 4. Recipe by Relish Chef Jon Ashton.
Per serving: 300 calories, 13g fat, 120mg chol., 42g prot., 1g carbs., 0g fiber, 920mg sodium.
Look for Relish magazine the first Thursday of each month in The Buffalo News.