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Prosciutto

Prosciutto is an Italian word for ham.  In English, the term prosciutto is almost always used for a dry-cured ham that is usually sliced thinly and served uncooked; this style is called prosciutto crudo in Italian and is distinguished from cooked ham, prosciutto cotto.Prosciutto

Commonly associated with Tuscany and Emilia, the most renowned and expensive legs of prosciutto come from central and northern Italy, such as those of Parma, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and San Daniele. It is also known in western areas of Slovenia (Kras and Vipava Valley), Montenegro (Njeguši) and Croatia (Dalmatia, Croatian Littoral and Istria), where it is known as pršut/a.

History of a Word
The word prosciutto derives from the Latin perexsiccatus (perexsicco), which gave way to the modern Italian word prosciugare, meaning "to thoroughly dry"; the Portuguese presunto has the same etymology. The Slovene, Serbian and Croatian word, pršut/a, comes from Italian.

Prosciutto comes from either pigs leg or from a wild horses thigh. The process of making prosciutto can take anywhere from nine months to two years, depending on the size of the ham.

Today, the ham is first cleaned, salted, and left for about two months. During this time the ham is pressed, gradually and carefully to avoid breaking the bone, to drain all blood left in the meat. Next it is washed several times to remove the salt and hung in a dark, well-ventilated environment. The surrounding air is important to the final quality of the ham; the best results are obtained in a cold climate.

The ham is then left until dry. The amount of time this takes varies, depending on the local climate and size of the ham. When the ham is completely dry it is hung to air, either at room temperature or in a controlled environment, for up to eighteen months.

Prosciutto is sometimes cured with nitrites (either sodium or potassium), which are generally used in other hams to produce the desired rosy color and unique flavor. Only sea salt is used in many PDO hams, but not all; some consortia are allowed to use nitrite. Prosciutto's characteristic pigmentation is produced by a direct chemical reaction of nitric oxide with myoglobin to form nitrosomyoglobin, followed by concentration of the pigments due to drying. Bacteria convert the added nitrite or nitrate to nitric oxide.

Use
Sliced prosciutto crudo in Italian cuisine is often served as an antipasto, wrapped around grissini or, especially in summer, cantaloupe or honeydew. It is eaten as accompaniment to cooked spring vegetables, such as asparagus or peas. It may be included in a simple pasta sauce made with cream, or a Tuscan dish of tagliatelle and vegetables. It is used in stuffing for other meats, such as veal, as a wrap around veal or steak, in a filled bread, or as a pizza topping. Prosciutto slices are often difficult to cut in pieces for use in cooking, as they tend to shred and stick to one another. In this case either using very sharp knives or shredding by hand is best.

Saltimbocca is a famous Italian veal dish, where escalopes of veal are topped with a sage leaf before being wrapped in prosciutto and then pan-fried.

Prosciutto is often served in sandwiches and Panini, sometimes in a variation on the Caprese Salad, with basil, tomato and fresh mozzarella. A basic sandwich served in some European cafes and bars consists of prosciutto in a croissant.

Culatello
Culatello is a refined variety of prosciutto, made from heavier pigs, cut to a fraction of the normal prosciutto and aged, and may be cured with wine, with Culatello di Zibello having PDO status. It is commonly served as a starter along with slices of sweet melon or fresh figs.

It is often served as a dish on New Year's Eve.

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