From the Inferno to Paradiso–or Dances with Prosciutto
Yesterday Guido and I went to the questura, which is the Italian word for “hell” (okay, it’s what they call the local police station). I’m in the process of finishing the fabulously labyrinthine process for my permesso di soggiorno, which is sort of like my green card/identity card for my next year in Italy. Anyway, we had an appointment slip for 8:16am and thought that we’d walk right up to the window at the ever so exact time printed on the paper. I mean, why else would they say 8:16am, unless that time slot was specifically for us?
We showed up around 8:16, only to find out that everyone else in Monza, our city, got the same appointment time, or something within 30 seconds of it. We had to pick a number and wait until it was our turn, and since the number counter currently said 66 and we were 88, things didn’t look so good. One hour after our arrival, they’d made it to 68. Italian classes for the day? Out the window. Guido’s day of work? Dream on.
Government offices do not bring out the best in my otherwise patient and Buddha-like boyfriend. The inefficiency and apathy drive him nuts. After living in Turkey and the Philippines, I tend to just shrug it off, but Guido likes to pace around the room (imagine a very, very small waiting room at a DMV) and analyze what each clerk is doing, how efficient they’re being, and what is causing the holdup. Then he reports back to me with updates: The computer broke down–can you imagine? The computer in a police station doesn’t work. Then: Some guy just gave a lecture to five people for fifteen minutes–why? Who knows. Followed by: The only clerk working has been on the phone for thirty minutes. I said thirty minutes. A string of quietly muttered expletives followed, as the hours ticked slowly by.
I had to get Guido out of the waiting room, so we slipped out for a cappucino and brioche (Italian croissant) three hours after our arrival, sometime around person 75. During the refreshing walk we passed one of my favorite things ever: a corner vegetable store. I dragged Guido in after the coffee and we wandered around the small shop for a few minutes as I lovingly ran my hands over the beautifully arranged pears–all five varieties of them!–and oggled the dark red endive (gorgeous!) and the plump roma tomatoes.
The vegetable I was most surprised to see, however, was a bunch of asparagus propped next to the cash register. Asparagus is a spring vegetable and I still don’t know why we found it in the market. Knowing that I likely wouldn’t see asparagus again until after winter, we purchased some with this recipe in mind. Thank god for the trip to the cafe and the vegetable shop–we walked back to the questura blissful and happy and got our paperwork processed shortly after our return. But I just keep thinking that if it hadn’t been for the four hours in Dante’s inferno that prompted our neighborhood stroll, I’m not sure we would have ended up in paradiso with this fabulous dish.
So, without further ado…
Roasted Asparagus Wrapped in Prosciutto
Servings: A side dish for two, possibly three, if you’re generous, which I am not.
- 1 bunch of asparagus
- 6 to 8 slices of thinly sliced prosciutto crudo di Parma (not prosciutto cotto, which is cooked)–you can find it in Trader Joe’s. Cut the strips in half.
- 1 Tbs of olive oil
- 2 tsp of lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F, or 200 degrees C.
Wash the asparagus and slice off the white ends, leaving only fresh green stalks. Place the asparagus in an oven dish (like a casserole dish) and drizzle with the olive oil, the lemon juice (feel free to add more or less, depending on your taste), and around a teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Roll the asparagus around in the oil and lemon juice on the bottom of the pan, coating each spear.
Place the pan in the oven and cook for about eight minutes. After eight minutes, turn the asparagus with a spatula (just roll them around) to make sure they cook evenly. Cook another five to eight minutes, depending on how you like your asparagus and how thin they are. If they’re thin, you’ll cook them between 10 and 12 minutes, and if they’re a bit thicker like mine were, between 12 and 15 minutes. You’ll have to test them near the end, but they should still be pretty stiff and fresh, but tender. They should not be mushy at all. If you’re vegetarian or don’t have prosciutto on hand, serve immediately and enjoy these tasty bites.
Otherwise, cut your strips of prosciutto in half while the asparagus cools, if you haven’t already. Then when the asparagus cools enough that you can handle it, wrap the prosciutto around the asparagus. Serve warm and try to control yourself in front of your guests. The combination of the slightly oiled and roasted asparagus with the salty prosciutto will almost certainly drive you wild.