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The Beauty of Combining Cured Ham with Roasted Squash

Posted Apr 04 2013 10:01am

Roasted Buttercup Soup with Fried Cilantro & Crispy Prosciutto

If you’ve never had prosciutto di Parma — that’s imported prosciutto from Parma, Italy — give it a try. While domestic prosciutto offers a faint taste of the faintly smoky, deeply savory, and lightly cured flavor so intrinsic to good prosciutto, the real deal offers a much richer, more pronounced taste. Yes, the good stuff is more expensive, but then again, you just need one or two slices to flavor an entire bowl of soup or to roll into a pounded chicken breast. One-quarter of a pound only costs $5, and I often wind up making about ten servings from that one-quarter pound.

Because the real stuff is more likely to come from wild boars or pastured hogs, it’s innately more flavorful and nutritious. That flavor also comes from the fact that the real deal is also more likely to be aged for the traditional period of two years under traditional conditions as opposed to having that process sped up and shortcutted in a factory setting. Imported prosciutto from Italy — and domestic artisanal prosciutto made by small-scale producers who are equally as passionate about curing their meats — tastes quite similar to traditional Spanish jamón, which is also made from high-quality pig/boar meat and is cured for long periods of time.

You can serve prosciutto unheated, of course, but I prefer to pan-fry the thin slices over medium-low for just a few minutes to concentrate its flavor and make it a little crisp. Sauteed prosciutto is lovely crumbled onto everything from soups to salads. And for a crowning touch for this dish, I used the same pan to sauté fresh cilantro leaves. That way they take on that wonderful prosciutto flavor, too. Waste not, want not!

Roasted Buttercup Soup with Fried Cilantro & Crispy Prosciutto
Makes 2 ample servings.

1 buttercup squash, skin and seeds removed, flesh cut into 1″ cubes (or you can use pre-cut butternut squash)
1 medium onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups chicken broth, preferably from free-range chickens
1 tsp. freshly crumbled dried sage
2 slices prosciutto di Parma
Handful of fresh cilantro, leaves only, rinsed and patted dry

To roast the squash, preheat oven to 375F. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place cubed squash in a large bowl and toss well with a drizzle of unrefined peanut oil OR melted butter/ghee. Salt and pepper lightly and toss well again. Spread out on the covered baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes or until cubes are golden brown. Alternatively, you could simmer the cubes for 10 minutes, although the squash takes on much more flavor from roasting than simmering.

Sauté the onion in a soup pot with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and sauté an additional 3 minutes or until garlic is soft and fragrant. Stir in broth, sage, and roasted/simmered squash. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for 5 minutes. At this point, you can serve the soup chunky or put it in a blender to make a smooth soup. I had it both ways — the first bowl was chunky, the leftovers I blended. It’s up to you.

While the soup simmers, place the prosciutto in a skillet that’s big enough to accommodate the slices when they’re spread out fully across the skillet. Heat over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, flipping over halfway through the cooking time. The slices should be lightly golden brown. Remove to a plate.

Add a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil to the same skillet you used to heat the prosciutto. Still on medium heat, add the cilantro leaves and cook for 2 minutes or until they’re darkened and crisp.

Ladle the soup into bows. Rip the prosciutto into small pieces and garnish each bowl with the prosciutto and the fried cilantro. Leftover soup can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Enjoy!

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