Saturday, August 9, 2008

Prosciutto & Melon in Sambuca

When discussing Dishes to Start a Meal, Judy Rodgers says
The beginning of a meal is a good place to be adventurous when menu planning, and when learning to cook...You might consider taking risks with appetizers, where you generally encounter hearty appetites and, if the nibbles are entertaining and delicious, open minds.

The appetizers in this book fall into several categories, but all aim to pique the appetite, rather than stun it with complexity or quantity. Small portioning is an obvious strategy for first courses, but I like the little nibble to be big enough to allow you to appreciate the ingredients. Some [of the starter recipes in Zuni] might [even] become the main course of a simple meal.

Judy Rodgers, Page 72.
When it comes to liking (or disliking) licorice, there doesn't seem to be much middle ground. I've never heard anyone say "Licorice? I can take it or leave it." I have a theory that there is a "licorice" gene. There are whole countries - Holland and Australia - where it seems to be an obsession. If this is true, I definitely have the gene.

So based o
n my love of the anise taste, when I was choosing a first starter to make from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, I picked this one. It's not exactly a recipe; it's more like assembling great ingredients. But what ingredients they are, starting with beautiful, ripe cantaloupe, and delicious Italian prosciutto.

According to Judy Rodgers

Cured meat, paired with a condiment or two or three, makes simple work of the appetizer course in a meal. Buy cured meat where they sell a lot of it, and where they slice it perfectly and are careful to lay down each slice neatly overlapping the preceding one.

We use Parma prosciutto at Zuni, choosing brands that are deep, fleshy pink and firm but not hard...San Daniele can be an excellent choice as well. Fine, sweet-salty, satiny prosciutto tolerates nothing but elegance on its plate ~ in particular, succulent, low-acid fruit. The combinations I describe toy with the softness, the subtle nutty-sweet animal flavor, and the sensuality of the best prosciutto.

Judy Rodgers, Pages 79 and 80
Prosciutto & Melon in Sambuca
Dishes to Start a Meal, Page 82

I found a fragrant cantaloupe at Eli's.

Eli just might have the most beautiful produce department in the City. He might also have the most e
xpensive produce department in the City now that Paradise Market is closed.

When I moved
back to New York City after living in Washington, Paradise was open at 83rd and Madison. It was the size of a rather small jewelry shop, and the produce there was treated the same way Tiffany treats diamonds. Each piece absolutely perfect and carefully arranged in glorious display.

One day after I sold my mother's enga
gement ring for loot (just kidding), I was shopping in Paradise, and I glanced out of the window. Staring into the window were Gerry and Dot Blum, people I met when I lived in Atlanta. They weren't looking at me; they were looking at the glorious fruits and vegetables.

Sadly, Paradise has been closed for a few years now. Rumor has it Mr. Roh got married, had a baby, and mov
ed out of the City. The location has had a number of incarnations since then - a lingerie shop, a cashmere shop; now it's a fancypants chocolate shop. Whenever I walk by, I think about Mr. Roh, beaming happily among his fruits and vegetables, and, like Milton, I miss Paradise. Who wouldn't?

Anyway, at Eli's I also got a few slices each of Prosciutto di Parma (on the left) and San Danielle (on the right) so I could try them both.

I halved and seeded the melon and carved away the rind. I cut the melon into crescents.

I took out my beautiful marble mortar, which I got from La Cuisine in Alexandria, Virginia.

I crushed some fennel seeds in the mortar

nd sprinkled the crushed fennel on the slices of melon, which I had put in a wide shallow bowl.

Then I added some Sambuca.

I can't figure it out, and he can't explain why, but Walter has at least five bottles of the stuff. I did see someone give him a little case containing three small bottles as a birthday present one year, but that doesn't account for the rest. I've never seen him drink it. But he sure has plenty of it.

I let the melon sit to macerate in the bowl for about ten minutes. Then I plated the crescents and
draped the prosciutto over the melon. It was ready to serve.

It was juicy and delicious with a faint anise flavor, not strong at all, actually rather elusive. We ate it as the main event at lunch. I loved it.

As usual, Sylvano wa
s hanging out with me in the kitchen.


MichaelG said...

I'm enjoying your blog. You're writing reads like you are starting to find your voice. I like it! What's your take on the Prosciutto de Parma Vs. San Danielle?

Adrienne said...

Well that looks delicious and summery! And I'm excited for what's next - I made the Zuni roast chicken last night and it was OUT of this world.

hanne hanne said...

The sambuca does seem inspired. I mean, prosciutto and melon on their own are pretty divine, but the added anise? I love it! Can wait for the roast chicken!

EB said...

What an interesting combo. I am a genetic lover of licorice too. (It come from my mother's side of the family) :)

oh so hungry said...

Ditto here on the Prosciutto de Parma vs. San Danielle taste comparisons. Inquiring minds need to know.

I made the roast chicken Sunday night and it was amazingly delicious. The oven. Not so much. That was a Monday night clean-up project.

white on rice couple said...

What a lovely summer combination of melons and prosciutto(or any cured meat). We've been finding so many different melons, they are all wonderful. I would like to try this recipe with some organic Sharlyn melons we are currently enjoying. If I can get some extra good ones, I'd love to send you one if you haven't already tried one!

I'm especially excited to discover this new flavor of crushed fennel seeds on the melons.
BTW-lovely mortar!

And, Todd just LOVES black Aussie licorice. It's is favorite and always a staple in the pantry!

Saffoula said...

You are absolutely right about the lovers vs. haters of licorice. I get my love from both sides, my paternal grandfather who we counted on to eat the black jelly beans and my mother's Greek family. In Greece they sell anise-flavored hard candies, which I highly recommend for all anise lovers!

Victoria said...

Michael and Oh So Hungry,

When I made this, I didn't notice a big difference between San Daniele Prosciutto and Prosciutto di Parma so I went back to Eli's and got some more to do a taste comparison side by side with nothing else. They were both delicious, and the difference was slight and very subtle. I found the Prosciutto di Parma to be slightly silkier and slightly sweeter, and it was my favorite. But that is truly splitting hairs. It's like comparing a Rolls Royce with a Bentley.