Last week, I received an email from Danielle of Legends from Europe informing me about the Market Basket blogger recipe contest and I knew I had to participate! Funded by the European Union, Legends from Europe is a three-year campaign in the U.S. to increase awareness and to celebrate the legendary quality, tradition, and taste of five renowned products certified under the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) system. The five PDO products are Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano, Montasio, Prosciutto di Parma, and Prosciutto di San Daniele.
I was so glad to have received Prosciutto di San Daniele in my market basket, as it’s definitely my favorite Italian cured meat! In order to be recognized as a Prosciutto di San Daniele, three conditions must be met:
1) The thighs must come exclusively from pigs bred within the ten regions of Northern Central Italy (Friuli Venezia Giulia, Veneto, Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Lazio, Abruzzo, Marche, Umbria). The pigs must be accompanied by a document guaranteeing their origin, birth, and genetic type.
2) The traditional production methods are strictly adhered to, which means, no freezing during transport, no chemical additives or preservatives, and using only sea salt in the curing. Every step of the production process is subject to inspection and supervision.
3) Maturation must take place in San Daniele del Friuli. This is very important as the distinctive mix of winds, humidity, and temperature imparts a unique flavor to the meat and the microclimate cannot be replicated anywhere.
Sometimes I like to eat it wrapped around sliced cantaloupe or grissini, and sometimes, when it is sliced paper thin, I like to savor it by itself. The meat has sweet, delicate flavors, with a balanced distribution of lean meat and fats. It doesn’t taste greasy at all.
With that in mind, I wanted to create a seasonal recipe to showcase the flavors of Prosciutto di San Daniele by combining an autumnal greenmarket ingredient and a classic Italian cooking technique. James adores carrots; in fact, it’s his favorite vegetable, so he’s suggested that I use it in a recipe with prosciutto.
And here it is: Prosciutto di San Daniele and Caramelized Carrot Risotto!
Risotto is a hearty dish I enjoy every fall and winter, and I’ve searched through my recipe list only to discover that I’ve never posted a risotto dish. The truth is, I’ve made it so many times that it has become a recipe I know by heart.
The beautiful thing about this dish is that it feels so light on the tongue; the risotto is creamy even without the addition of heavy cream or cheese. To make the dish even more aesthetically and texturally interesting, I reserved some finely diced carrots to be stirred in at the last cooking stage and crisped up thinly-sliced prosciutto in the oven to top the finished dish. That way, the rice will be infused with layers of flavors and you’ll still be able to find pieces of crispy prosciutto and carrots.
The savory flavors of prosciutto and the natural sweetness of the carrots complement each other so harmoniously. I’m surprised that it has taken me this long to discover this combination. The sage gave the dish a subtle autumnal accent but not enough to overpower the dish. This is definitely a dish I’ll add to my Fall repertoire and even to my Thanksgiving table!
Prosciutto di San Daniele and Caramelized Carrot Risotto
2 tbsps olive oil
1 lb carrots, peeled and finely diced, divided
6 cups chicken stock
3 tbsps unsalted butter, divided
2 oz Prosciutto di San Daniele, thinly sliced, cut into wide strips
1 small shallot, finely diced
1 medium leek, white part only, thinly sliced
2 cups Arborio or short-grain rice
½ cup dry white wine
1 tsp fresh sage, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Prosciutto crisps, for garnish (see recipe below)
Flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, for garnish
Reserve 1 cup of diced carrots to be used for the risotto.
In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add carrots (minus the reserved portion) and leeks and cook until the vegetables are caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the carrots are fork tender. Transfer the vegetables and stock to a blender, and process until smooth. Return the carrot stock to the saucepan, simmering on low while preparing the risotto.
Meanwhile, in another large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and cook prosciutto and shallots until caramelized, about 2 minutes. Add the rice to the pan and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid is absorbed. Lower the heat and stir in sage. Add stock to the rice, about ½ cup at a time, stirring often and making sure it is nearly absorbed before adding more. About 10 minutes into adding the stock, stir in the reserved cup of diced carrots and continue adding stock to the rice. The risotto is done when the rice is cooked to al dente and the liquid is creamy, about 25 minutes.
Remove from heat. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste, top with prosciutto crisps and parsley, and serve immediately while hot.
2 oz Prosciutto di San Daniele, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut prosciutto into thin strips and spread them out on a lightly greased cooking sheet. Bake until the pieces become dry and crispy, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
*You can ask the butcher to slice prosciutto into desired thickness. For charcuterie and for variations of prosciutto-wrapped dishes (like melon, asparagus, figs), a paper thin slicing is best. For cooking, I prefer a 1/8- to 1/4- inch slicing so that the ham doesn’t “disappear” into the dish (to make egg dishes like quiche and omelet), sometimes I even ask for 1/2- inch slices so that I can cut them into dices.
*For the short-grain rice, I like to use either arborio or carnaroli rice. Arborio is more commonly available, but it is easy to overcook, so you need to keep a watchful eye on the last few additions of the broth. With carnaroli, it is easier to produce a risotto with a creamier, al dente texture.