Food for Thought

Ham squared, an affair of the heart

I’m sittin’ on the deck ponderin’ big things: Trying to remember the names of all the players on the University of Denver’s 1958 NCAA champion ice hockey team; wondering if Sudoku is a plot of some kind; revisiting the relationship of surrealism to abstract expressionism; considering nursing as a possible occupation as I enter the Golden Years (it’s that, or clerk at a convenience store).

I’ve got a glass of red in hand, the birdies are tweeting, clouds are scudding across the southern sky, a soft landscape spreads between a frame of pines. It’s a scene right out of a cheap Southwestern painting; you can almost smell horse dung and hear the yawps of cowpokes in the distance. Or are those the yawps of the buyers of cheesy Southwestern art?

I am in harmony with my surroundings and, thus, I am more prone than usual to sloppy thinking and brain-deadening sentiment.

I am also prone to let loose the governor on the unconscious. It’s like an amusement park ride: You have to be a certain height to get on, but when you do … Katie, bar the door!

I set the psychic event in motion and immediately zip through a set of associations (most of which, for the sake of my family, I won’t detail — other than to say association No. 3 involves gerbils) and I eventually end up thinking about food.

This doesn’t take all that long, in real time. Any chain of free association I forge quickly includes a link to food.

I whiz through some meaningless thoughts about green, leafy vegetables and end up on firm ground: protein. High-grade protein. Meat.

In another sec, I arrive at cured meats.

Final destination: prosciutto.

A beautiful late-summer evening, birdies tweeting, sappy landscape, free association. Where else would the brain train stop? It ain’t pullin’ into Braunschweiger Station, for crying out loud (although it might, if I didn’t have gout).

Prosciutto.

Pork, and therefore, oh so wrong, in so many ways. But, I’m oh-so-weak, a fact well known to a higher power. Namely, my physician. But, as long as I can pay for the bypass surgery ...

This is not just any pork. And not just any cured pork. This stuff is superb, ranking high in the pantheon of sublime additives. This substance was put here for a reason and, since another even higher power does not play at dice (thanks, Al) I figure I am obligated to use it, even though I hear my wife, Kathy, yelling “No, it’s pork. No pork!”

I am blinded. There, on the throne, sits prosciutto cruda, irresistible, an ancient and venerable product. Ham, in a sense. But, oh so much more than ham. Compared to the waterlogged crud that passes for ham on today’s market shelves, this stuff is pure gold.

Ham squared.

Prosciutto is the opposite of the standard American ham. In fact, the name derives from a Roman term indicating the item is drained of water. And, the manner in which this hunk of carefully-fed pig is drained makes it what it is, giving it a profoundly deep flavor and a fascinating mouth feel when eaten in its prime state. The ham is trimmed then salt and air cured and, depending on the region in which it is produced, certain herbal combinations are applied in the process.

When it is ready, drained of water, caressed by cool Italian breezes, prosciutto can be more or less salty, more or less sweet, more or less affected by herbal additions. Regardless of slight variations, if the ham is from a quality producer, it’s guaranteed to be darned good.

I’ve started using prosciutto in a lot of applications — most beyond the standard, but nifty prosciutto and melon, and prosciutto and fresh mozzarella combos. True, this ham suits sweet and sweetish companions, it’s saltiness and texture providing perfect counterpoints to fruits and milder cheeses. But it’s also wonderful as an addition to a variety of things savory, for example crostini toppings, finely diced, mixed with tomato, garlic, herbs, etc.

It’s on the stove and in the oven that the stuff sparkles for me, not so much as a soloist in a performance, but as a member of the orchestra, playing a subtle, but critical part.

When the meat is crisped up in a sauté pan, it leaves behind an essence that lifts any further addition to the pan. The cooked bits fit neatly into a variety of pan sauces — from a simple reduction of wine and/or stock slicked and shined with butter or oil, to cream-based sauces, kissed with butter and cheese. Garlic, onion? Best of teammates for this porky champ.

Thin slices of the meat make an excellent, moisturizing wrap for meats, secured with toothpicks, crisped as the pieces of meat (chicken, turkey and pork in particular) are browned off, providing a wealth of moisture and flavor. Wrap a seasoned chicken breast crammed with a cheese-blessed stuffing and some fresh herbs in a wispy blanket of prosciutto, brown on both sides, then finish, covered, with a bit of stock. Remove the meat, make a pan sauce, return the chicken to the pan and coat with the sauce. Like it? Of course.

Blanket the breast of a chicken or turkey prior to roasting. Like it? Of course.

Want the ultimo version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich (or “Sangwitch,” as we call it here in Siberia With a View)? Get a soft melter, some artisanal bread and prosciutto together. A bit of butter and a hot pan: Hoo boy.

Saute pieces of prosciutto with onion and garlic, add some slices of that super abundant late-summer zucchini your friends continue to give you, throw in some diced tomato, some herbs. Outstanding as a side.

But, since I have a first-class seat on the ICU Express, I gotta say prosciutto partners best with pasta and cheese. Sure, you can throw some vegetable matter into the mix, but face it, it’s for effect — an attempt to impress the health nuts in the crowd. Peas work well. Asparagus. Maybe even eggplant, with a bit of the ham, in a ratatouille.

Try a four-cheese mac and cheese using shells or a ribbed tubular pasta, the pasta cooked to the edge of al dente then mixed with a béchamel turned cheesy good with the addition of the four highlight ingredients. Perhaps, if you dare, melt some teensy bits of anchovy into the oil and butter combo you use to make your béchamel. Add prosciutto, season with a bit of ground nutmeg, salt, pepper, some red pepper flakes, some finely minced and mashed garlic. Put the whole mess into a buttered baking dish, cover with fresh bread crumbs, sprinkle with a bit more olive oil and bake at 350 for 40 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown.

Here’s a dandy. If you eat this dish regularly, you might want to invest in a home defibrillator unit.

This is a mix you can mess with endlessly, substituting peripherals as you will. The building blocks in the foundation, however, remain constant: cheese ravioli, heavy cream, chicken stock, extra virgin olive oil, onion or shallot, garlic, and (this is for my wife) … green peas.

Don’t bother making your own ravioli, although it is fairly easy with store-bought won ton wrappers. Buy the delectable pre-made little darlings, and make sure you procure a higher-grade “fresh” version.

This one is easy, and can work as a main dish, or a side with a hefty portion of flesh — if you’re in the mood to feel incredibly bloated and want to go to bed before 8 p.m.

Get yourself some green peas. Around here, that means frozen. Put your peas in boiling, salted water for two minutes, or so. Don’t overcook. Taken them out and plunge them into an ice bath to stop the cooking.

Mince some shallot. Mince and mush some garlic. Saute a bunch of chopped prosciutto and render the fatty elixir. Remove the meat from the pan, add a bit of extra virgin olive oil and cook the shallot briefly over medium heat, add the bits of prosciutto back to the pan and deglaze with a bit of white wine. When the wine is nearly gone and the browned bits of heaven have released from the pan, add some stock, a first load of herbs (if you want — personally, I am content with a touch of ground nutmeg and little else, in order to let the aromatics and the prosciutto shine through) and reduce to a glazelike state. Add heavy cream, amalgamate, reduce. At this point, season again, adding salt to taste ( I find it’s not wise to add salt prior to reducing the liquids, since the resulting, lessened volume of liquid can easily become too salty) and add the peas. Keep the mix over low heat.

Cook the ravioli as per instructions — if fresh, they will take very little time, so pay heed to what is going on. Drain the ravioli and gently add them to the sauce and coat. Serve with some freshly grated, high-end Parmesan.

Oh, yeah.

A variation: Bake some squash — pumpkin, acorn squash, or both — cool, peel and cube. Make a sage brown butter, using prosciutto and its renderings in the first part of the process. Flip in some minced shallot and mushed garlic and cook until soft. Take out the sage leaf, add the squash and touch things up with a bit of thyme, some chopped Italian parsley. Add the ravioli. Splash a bit of extra-virgin on top. Serve with cheese.

And make sure someone in the crowd knows how to call the ambulance.

Cause you’re eatin’ ham squared.


What's Cookin?

No Cook Peach Freezer Jam

2 1/4 cups prepared peaches
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 cups sugar
1 box Sure Jell

Wash, scald and drain containers and lids, or use automatic dish washer with very hot rinse water.

Peel and pit peaches. Grind or finely chop fruit. Measure 2 1/4 cups into large bowl. Add lemon juice.

Mix 3/4 cup water and Sure Jell in small saucepan. Bring to a full boil and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. At once stir into fruit. Continue stirring 3 minutes. A few sugar crystals will remain.

Immediately ladle into containers, leaving 1/2-inch space at top. With a damp cloth, wipe any spills from containers. Cover at once with lids. Let stand at room temperature 24 hours. Store jam in freezer. Small amounts may be covered and kept in the refrigerator.

Yields (3) 8-ounce jars.

Sallie Dicorato

Ignacio resident Sallie Nolene Dicorato died at her home Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2007, after a brief battle with cancer. She was 72.

Mrs. Dicorato was born to Noten J. and Marguerite Opal Dingle Whitt in Glendale, Calif., on April 15, 1935. Her mother always said, “It was a beautiful spring day when Sallie was born.”

When she was 18, she eloped to Santa Barbara, Calif., with Ralph J. Dicorato on June 21, 1953. The Dicoratos moved to Ignacio in 1990.

Her family said Mrs. Dicorato was an excellent homemaker who enjoyed baking and a variety of crafts. They said her home was always decorated for each season with charming collectibles. She had an extensive doll collection.

Mrs. Dicorato is survived by her husband of 54 years, Ralph Dicorato, of Ignacio; daughters Kathie Lorenzini of Ignacio, Kimberley Stockwill of Pagosa Springs and Kristi Biggs of Ventura, Calif.; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandsons.

Visitation was held from noon to 8 p.m. Aug. 17, 2007, at Hood Mortuary. Graveside services took place 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 18, 2007, at Ignacio East Cemetery. The Rev. Joe Sparks officiated. After the service, there was a small luncheon at the family home.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the American Cancer Society, 1800 East Third Ave., Suite 101, Durango, CO 81301.


Juanita Olguin

Juanita Archuleta Olguin, born on March 29, 1918, in Pagosa Junction, Colo., entered into eternal rest on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2007. It was raining, the wind blew and the sun was shining as she entered her eternal home.

She was preceded in death by her husband of 53 years, Adolfo Olguin, her brother, Leo Archuleta, and her parents, Victor and Abenicia Archuleta.

She leaves behind four children, Georgia (Don) Seibel, Ramona (Modesto) Ortiz, Richard (Carol) Olguin, and Lance Olguin. She also leaves behind eleven grandchildren and twenty-five great-grandchildren.

She along with her husband Adolfo, owned and operated the El Dorado Café in Ignacio, Colo. Juanita was a great cook and was known for her delicious pies. After leaving the El Dorado Café she lived for a number of years in Durango, and then later moved to Aztec, N.M. She was a loving wife, dedicated and loving mother and a very mushy grandmother. Juanita was the teacher of her faith and the keeper at the gate of our home. She loved life, she loved to attend Holy Mass, she loved to dance, and to help others. She loved to fish and would out fish her husband most of the time, and in her later years after the death of her husband Adolfo, she enjoyed going to the casino. She participated in her children’s lives, was a hard working and loving example of what the word “Mother” means. She will be greatly missed by her entire family who loved and treasured her.

Visitation will be on Monday, Sept. 3, 2007, from 6-7 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and the Vigil will be at 7 p.m. at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Aztec. Mass of the Resurrection will be on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2007, at 10 a.m. at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Ignacio, Colorado with internment at the Tiffany Cemetery, in Tiffany, Colorado with a reception following interment at St. Ignatius Hall in Ignacio. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, 500 N. Mesa Verde, Aztec, NM 87410 or St. Ignatius Catholic Church, PO Box 1350, Ignacio, CO 81137.

Norman J. Ottaway was born to Leonard C. and Lucile V. Ottaway on Wednesday, April 7, 1920, in Durango, Colorado. He went peacefully with our Lord on Friday, July 27, 2007, in his home in Henderson, Nevada.

Norman lived in and around Marvel, Colorado, for the first 10 years of his life until he and his parents moved to Pagosa Springs. The Ottaway family owned a ranch on Light Plant Road. Norman helped his father with the cattle, horses and ranching.

When the road to Wolf Creek Pass was being widened, Norman and his Uncle Frank Ottaway would hang off the rock cliffs to insert dynamite in crevices for blasting.

Norman joined the CCC Camp in the late 1930s. He worked in and around the Pagosa area and in Arizona cutting trails and building fences.

During WW II, Norman entered service with the Army on March 29, 1942. He served his tour of duty in the South Pacific where he earned a Good Conduct Metal, Asiatic Pacific Theater with two Bronze Stars, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one Bronze Star, three Battle Stars and five Overseas Service Bars. He was with the 821st Engineer Aviation Battalion. Norman was honorably discharged on October 1, 1945.

Upon returning to Pagosa Springs, Norman was asked to run for county sheriff. He won the election and served as Archuleta County Sheriff for 28 years. He retired in 1974. During his service he was the youngest sheriff in Colorado and was one of two sheriffs who had held office for as long as he did. Norman also operated heavy equipment for Archuleta County Maintenance Department, was the county fireman and a fireman for the town of Pagosa Springs. He was an avid fisherman and hunter. Norman knew where the best fishing holes were and where to fill his tag with trophy elk.

After retiring from Archuleta County, Norman moved to Henderson, Nevada, where he worked for Chemical Lime Company. He retired and moved to Arizona to take care of his mother until her death in 1998. Norman moved back to Henderson to be close to his family.

He is preceded in death by his parents, Dolores his wife, and a grandson Jerry Martinez.

Norman is survived by two daughters and their spouses, Bonnie and Mel Martinez and Lucille and Keith Atkin, of Henderson; son, Norman Ottaway Jr. of Kenmore, Wash.; grandchildren, Monica Law of Larksville Penn., Matthew Martinez, of New York City, Melissa Bridges, Joseph Martinez, Jessica Freeman, Jonathan Atkin of Henderson, Isaac Ottaway of Las Vegas; great-grandchildren Ryan Meyer, Kevin Martinez, Ethan Nelson, Ariel Martinez, Austin Bridges, Braden and Logan Law and many longtime friends.
A memorial service will be held in Boulder City, Nevada, at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery on Friday, September 28, 2007, at 2 p.m.

A gathering to remember Norman will be planned for next summer in Pagosa Springs.