Every so often, we pay homage to the Italian classics: flavor combinations so wonderfully matched, it's like they were created by ancient Roman gods of taste with perfect palates! We recognize that the creation of prosciutto alone is a miracle in and of itself -- a product so varied and nuanced in the many parts of the world where it's produced that it elicits rapturous poetry and steadfast allegiances. But that's for another time, another blog post.
Right now, it's all about the salty with the sweet. The unctuousness of a silky paper-thin slice of prosciutto (the best is when they're actually gossamer, like a whisper of a silk curtain hanging in the window of a Renaissance palazzo...sorry, but you can see what I mean about eliciting poetic phrases!). The perfume of a sun-ripened melon, its flesh so sweet it practically melts as you slice it. Now, I'm usually a San Daniele girl when it comes to prosciutto (and yes, I do lerrrv pata negra, the Rolls Royce of cured pig, but that's Spanish, and for now we're sticking to Italian) -- I love San Daniele's sweetness and complexity. But here, paired with melon, I'm going to have to come down on the side of the classic Prosciutto di Parma. It's saltier than most hams, in part due to the diet of the local pigs used (they're fed leftovers from the parmigiano-making process). This saltier prosciutto is a nice contrast to the sweetness of the melon.
And since we're in late summer, we can also enjoy the crops of fresh figs available now. Prosciutto e fichi might be an even better pairing than the classic prosciutto and melon. Blasphemy? Not at all! Italians celebrate this pairing both raw and cooked. I always anxiously awaited the day that the Forno in Campo de' Fiori's next-door takeout sandwich shop posted the hand-written sign "Pizza Prosciutto e Fichi" in the window.
This meant that while the ingredients were still on hand, one could order a piece of their famous pizza bianca, warm and stuffed with prosciutto and sliced fresh figs. Sometimes I'd stop by my favorite cheese shop-on-wheels in the Campo market, to slather some buffalo milk ricotta cheese inside this glorious panino. I can taste it in my mind right now. Another delicious summer treat, at the beginning or end of a meal, is a fresh juicy fig cut in half and wrapped in prosciutto, thrown on the grill to slightly char the ham. What the figs add, besides their unique flavor, is the textural crunch of the hundreds of little seeds inside the fruit. Salty, sweet, crunchy, savory...and a touch of umami. What's not to love about prosciutto and melon? And figs? Buon estate! (Happy summer!)