Spaghetti with Asparagus, Smoked Mozzarella and Prosciutto

I am a pasta lover so I will always try a new pasta recipe if it looks good. .  to me, you can never have too much pasta and I always want to experiment beyond just spaghetti noodles with meat sauce . . .

Admittedly, this is my first time cooking with prosciutto! I always seem to have bacon in the house when a recipe calls for it, so I end up using bacon.  Although the two are different, bacon seems to be a worthy substitute. Prosciutto is a dry cured ham, that is usually thinly sliced and mostly served uncooked.

This recipe is Giada’s. I just changed a couple things and added tomatoes for some color! If you like pasta, prosciutto and asparagus, this one is a must try!

Spaghetti with Asparagus, Smoked Mozzarella and Prosciutto

INGREDIENTS

  • 1-2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
  • 3/4 pound spaghetti
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into strips (I cut mine a little too big so cut smaller and crosswise into thinner strips)
  • 6 ounces smoked mozzarella cheese, diced (about 1 cup); I used a parmesan, romano and asiago cheese blend (just for the topping at the end)
  • 6 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
  • 1-2 Roma tomatoes (optional; for color)
  • 1 cup of the cooking liquid (when you make the pasta; wanted to call this out so you don’t dump all the water when the pasta is finished)

DIRECTIONS

Cook the asparagus in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. With a spider or slotted spoon, remove asparagus from boiling water to a bowl of ice water to cool and stop the cooking. When cool, strain, cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces, and set aside.
Return the water in the pot to a boil, adding additional water, if necessary. (If you forget and dump the asparagus water, don’t worry- just boil a fresh pot of water for the spaghetti.) Add the pasta and cook until al dente, tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.  Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add asparagus to the skillet.
After 1-2 minutes, add the tomatoes and toss.
Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the pasta, and if needed, some of the reserved cooking liquid. If the pasta looks too dry, you’ll know you need to add some of the water. I used only about a 1/2 cup. Toss to coat. Add the prosciutto, mozzarella, and basil, and toss to combine. (I added the cheese and basil at the end as a garnish). Turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and serve.
Trying a new bowl! 🙂

Bacon and pancetta have the most in common. They are both typically made from pork belly and both are cured for a certain length of time. Both are also considered “raw” and need to be cooked before becoming palatable.

The process for making the two is slightly different. For pancetta, the focus is really on how it’s cured. This can be done simply with salt, but spices and other aromatics are often added to infuse the pancetta with particular flavors.

Bacon takes things one step further by smoking the meat after it’s been cured. This is usually a cold-smoking process, meaning that the bacon isn’t actually heated or cooked during smoking and remains raw. Smoking can be done with a wide range of woods, from apple to maple, which each give their own distinctive, delicious flavors to the meat.

So pancetta is cured and unsmoked, while bacon is cured and smoked, but both need to be cooked before being eaten. They can be used interchangeably in dishes, depending on whether or not you want a smoky flavor.

Prosciutto is very different from either bacon or pancetta, but we think it gets confusing because the words prosciutto and pancetta can sound similar to our non-Italian ears! Prosciutto is made from the hind leg of a pig (ie, the ham), and outside Italy, calling it prosciutto indicates a ham that has been cured.

The quality of prosciutto is is entirely in how it’s cured. The outside of the ham is usually rubbed with just salt and sometimes a mix of spices. This draws out moisture and concentrates the flavor while the ham slowly air-dries (very much like dry-aged beef). This process can take anywhere from a few months to a several years depending on the desired result.

Once cured, prosciutto is usually thinly sliced and eaten as is. In other words, uncooked – though we wouldn’t exactly call the meat raw after it’s been cured for so long. Sometimes prosciutto gets lightly cooked as a finishing touch to a pasta sauce or other dish, but this is more to bring out the aroma and merge flavors than it is to cook the prosciutto.

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