Prosciutto e Melone con Insalata di Rucola
Prosciutto e melone con insalata rucola is a traditional Italian anti-pasti, i.e. an appetiser before the main course. Given the right ingredients, it just takes a matter of minutes to put together. Despite being a simple spread of only 4 to 5 items, the assembly of flavours are quite incredible. This explains why it was easily one of my favorites-to-order on the menu of any Italian restaurant that offers it. Why eat it at a restaurant when you can always make it at home? Well, read on and you would know why…
prosciutto di Parma, slices of parma ham
melone , rockmelon/cantaloupe
aceto balsamico tradizionale, balsamic vinegar with appropriate aging
Parmigiano-Reggiano, parmesan cheese
toasted almond slices (optional)
Cut rockmelon into strips and wrap with thinly sliced parma ham
On a plate,gather a handful of baby arugula and shave parmesan cheese over it followed by halved cherry tomatoes
drizzle balsamic vinegar on the plate and carefully lay the wrapped ham-melon slices over the vinegar streaks.
emulsify EVO and some balsamic vinegar in a bottle by shaking rapidly and drizzle over arugula.
What intrigues me about Italian cuisine even til today is how a whole palate of rich and wonderful flavours could be teased out given the simplicity of the stuff used. Having said, the ingredients used has to be of premium quality. Given the cost of the ingredients, it seems to defy all economic sense to prepare this at home. But to do so would allow one to tweak the ingredients and flavours to one’s liking, and for me, it has to be the use of aceto balsamico tradizionale. Having visited gourmet food stores and purveyors both locally and overseas, I often wondered why anyone would pay such exorbitant prices for a tiny bottle of vinegar. I’d always thought the aceto balsamico di modena, being an affordable imitation of the traditional version would have very similar flavours to the true McCoy. Surely they would be similar? Boy was I wrong! I remembered vividly having my first taste of aceto balsamico tradizionale some years back at a food show, as a simple dip with extra virgin olive (EVO) oil and focaccia and it simply swept me off my feet.I remained speechless for a good couple of seconds, eyes wide opened with the “O.M.G! How the f*** did I not know this before!?” look and the Italian product representative was already gleaming from ear to ear with a confident “I know right?! Toldja so!” smile. I do not speak Italian and he spoke only a smattering of simple English intermingled with italian culinary terms which I vaguely understood. But we knew precisely that we are feeling exactly the same thing. The language of food is universal and transcends all barriers. I’d since been a convert. Go for the real stuff whenever possible.
But then, my first bottle of aceto balsamico tradizionale did not come until much later. The price tag was made me shelf the idea of getting one for the longest time. But when I finally did, it served its purpose gloriously. I’d used it to create the most wonderful salad dressings and vinaigrettes I’d made, together with good EVO. From a herby rosemary and garlic italiano tradizionale concoction, to one an oriental twist of a wafu-ponzu dressing with crushed toasted sesame seeds, yuzu rind and juice, aceto balsamico compliments the flavours really well. Or it is really good as it is, like I’d used in Prosciutto e melone con insalata rucola, with a small amount drizzled over the plate and later a generous splosh of EVO- aceto balsamico emulsifcation over the arugula salad. The aceto balsamico tradizionale I’m using recently is a 12-year aged aceto balsamico from Leonardi Acetaia, who has a tradition of making premium balsamic vinegars for more than 140 years. I like its flavours as it has an edge of acerbity which was more smooth than sharp, with a hint of subtle sweetness towards the end. It is overall rather full-bodied but yet in an un-imposing manner, making it a good vector, lending support to other stronger flavours. But the condiment itself is robust enough to hold volume and be used on its own.
Once the melon slices are wrapped with ham, the dish must be assembled and served immediately. The salt in the ham would draw out water from the melon via osmotic action causing the fruit to macerate and begin to soften, thus losing that desired crunch. So all must be done in quick successions with the assemblage of the ham and melon slices done last if necessary.
I thought the combination of balsamic vinegar with the traditional Prosciutto e melone worked rather well, especially when it is accompanied with an arugula salad shaved aged parmesan cheese. The flavour and textures drawn from this plate was rather complex, good enough as a light meal on its own really and not just an appetiser. I love the acridity of arugula which paired off wonderfully with the sweetness and tart tones from the balsamic vinegar-EVO emulsification. Intense flavours from the saliferous parma ham and parmesan cheese went surprisingly well with the sugary elements from the melon and cherry tomatoes. Lots of unami-ness in it if you ask me! And of course, the crunch from the greens and fruits is always refreshing as in any salads. Would have been better with a sprinkle of lightly toasted almond slices but I was lazy. Give me parma ham, balsamic vinegar and good cheese and I am a happy boy.