Parma is a province in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Parma is famous for its Prosciutto di Parma. The whole area is renowned for its sausage production, as well as for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and some kinds of pasta like gnocchi di patate, cappelletti (or anolini) in brodo and tortelli with different stuffings (potatoes, pumpkin, mushrooms or chestnuts). Prosciutto or Italian ham is an Italian dry-cured ham that is thinly sliced and served uncooked. This style is called prosciutto crudo in Italian and is distinguished from cooked ham, prosciutto cotto.
There’s a reason why these foods developed in the Emilia region. It’s one of the few areas of Italy that isn’t mountainous, so there are plains and pasture. The farmers of the region were able to raise cows and therefore produce milk and with milk came butter, cream and cheese. Add ham to the dairy ingredients and you have the central core of the region’s cuisine.
Parma is also home to one of Italy’s longest established pasta factories, Barilla. The Barilla Center for the Propagation of Gastronomy has several state-of-the-art kitchens for demonstrations and a large auditorium for lectures, as well as a huge library of books on food and cooking, some as early as the 15th Century.
Prosciutto is made from either a pig’s or a wild boar’s hind leg or thigh. Prosciutto may also be made using the hind leg of other animals, in which case the name of the animal is included in the name of the product, for example “prosciutto cotto d’agnello” (“lamb prosciutto”).
The process of making prosciutto can take from nine months to two years, depending on the size of the ham. First, the ham is cleaned, salted and set aside for about two months. During this time, the ham is pressed, gradually and carefully, so as to avoid breaking the bone and to drain it of all liquid. Next, it is washed several times to remove the salt and is hung in a dark, well-ventilated area. The surrounding air is important to the final quality of the ham and the best results are obtained in a cold climate. The ham is then left until thoroughly dry. The 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 18 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, but only sea salt is allowed in Protected Designation of Origin hams.
Under the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union (EU), certain well-established meat products are covered by a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). The two famous types of Italian prosciutto are: prosciutto crudo di Parma, from Parma and prosciutto crudo di San Daniele, from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Prosciutto di Parma has a slightly nutty flavor from the Parmigiano Reggiano whey that is sometimes added to the pigs’ diet. The prosciutto di San Daniele is darker in color and sweeter in flavor.
Sliced prosciutto crudo in Italian cuisine is often served as an antipasto, wrapped around grissini or melon. It is also 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 in a dish of tagliatelle with vegetables. It is used in stuffings for meats, as a wrap around veal or chicken, in a filled bread or as a pizza topping. Saltimbocca is an Italian veal dish, where thin slices of veal are topped with a sage leaf before being wrapped in prosciutto and then pan-fried. Prosciutto is often served in sandwiches and sometimes in a variation of the Caprese salad with basil, tomato and fresh mozzarella.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard, granular cheese. The name “Parmesan” is often used generically for various versions of this cheese. It is named after the producing areas, which comprise the Provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna, Modena (all in Emilia-Romagna) and Mantua (in Lombardy). Under Italian law, only cheese produced in these provinces may be labelled “Parmigiano-Reggiano”, and European law classifies the name as a protected designation of origin. According to legend, Parmigiano-Reggiano was created during the Middle Ages in Bibbiano, in the province of Reggio Emilia. Its production soon spread to the Parma and Modena areas. Historical documents show that in the 13th and 14th centuries, Parmigiano was already very similar to the product produced today, which suggests its origins can be traced to an even earlier time.
Traditionally, cows have to be fed only on grass or hay, producing grass-fed milk. Only natural whey culture is allowed as a starter, together with calf rennet. The only additive allowed is salt, which the cheese absorbs while being submerged for 20 days in brine tanks saturated with Mediterranean sea salt. The product is aged an average of two years and cheese is produced daily. Parmigiano-Reggiano is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. Whole milk from the morning milking is mixed with naturally skimmed milk (which is made by keeping milk in large shallow tanks to allow the cream to separate) of the previous evening’s milking, resulting in a part skim mixture. This mixture is pumped into copper-lined vats.
Starter whey is added and the temperature is raised to 33–35 °C (91–95 °F). Calf rennet is then added and the mixture is left to curdle for 10–12 minutes. The curd is then broken up mechanically into small pieces and the temperature is raised to 55 °C (131 °F) with careful control by the cheese-maker. The curd is left to settle for 45–60 minutes. The compacted curd is collected in a piece of muslin before being divided in two and placed in molds. The remaining whey in the vat is traditionally used to feed the pigs from which “Prosciutto di Parma” is produced.
The cheese is put into a stainless steel, round form that is pulled tight with a spring-powered buckle so the cheese retains its wheel shape. After a day or two, the buckle is released and a plastic belt, imprinted numerous times with the Parmigiano-Reggiano name, the plant’s number and the month and year of production is put around the cheese and the metal form is buckled tight again. The imprints take hold on the rind of the cheese in about a day and the wheel is then put into a brine bath to absorb salt for 20–25 days. After brining, the wheels are then transferred to the aging rooms in the plant for 12 months. Each cheese is placed on wooden shelves and the cheese and the shelves are cleaned manually or robotically every seven days. The cheese is also turned at this time.
At 12 months, the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano inspects every wheel. The cheese is tested by a master grader who taps each wheel to identify undesirable cracks and voids within the wheel. Wheels that pass the test are then heat branded on the rind with the Consorzio’s logo. Those that do not pass the test used to have their rinds marked with lines or crosses all the way around to inform consumers that they are not getting top-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano; more recent practices simply have these lesser rinds stripped of all markings. The average Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel is about 18–24 cm (7–9 in) high, 40–45 cm (16–18 in) in diameter and weighs 38 kg (84 lb).
Parmigiano-Reggiano is commonly grated over pasta dishes, stirred into soups and risottos or eaten sliced as an appetizer. It is often shaved over other dishes like salads. Slivers and chunks of the hardest parts of the crust are sometimes simmered in soup.
Prosciutto Parmesan Pasta
- 8 ounces fresh fettuccine pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 pound prosciutto, sliced thin
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente; drain.
Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook the prosciutto in the skillet over medium heat until just brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the prosciutto from the skillet and set the prosciutto aside on paper towels. Drain the skillet of any remaining fat.
Add the cream the skillet and heat on low. Slowly stir in 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese in small amounts. When all the cheese has been melted, stir in the peas and prosciutto.
Allow to heat for 2 minutes more. Add the drained pasta and toss lightly. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.
Cheese and Prosciutto Panini
- 4 whole slices Italian bread
- 1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 4 thin slices Prosciutto di Parma
- Coarsely ground black pepper
- Unsalted butter
Cover two slices of the bread with a layer of grated cheese. Generously grind black pepper over the top. Place two slices of Prosciutto di Parma over the cheese. Place the remaining slices of bread on top.
Cook in a panini maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions or:
In a large frying, add enough butter to provide a generous covering, about 2 tablespoons. Heat the butter over medium-low heat until foamy.
Add the cheese sandwiches, pressing them onto the pan; slowly fry, regulating the heat so the butter does not burn.
Once light brown, turn the sandwiches over and press down with a spatula to compress slightly. Brown the other side.
When done, transfer the sandwiches to a paper towel to drain. Cut in half diagonally and serve.
- 1 pound prepared pizza dough, at room temperature
- All-purpose flour, for dusting
- Cornmeal, for dusting
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 clove garlic, grated
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 4 cups baby arugula
- 1 small shallot, thinly sliced
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
- Shaved Parmesan cheese, for topping
Place a pizza stone or an upside-down baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch round.
Transfer the round to a cornmeal-dusted pizza peel or another upside-down baking sheet; slide the dough onto the hot pizza stone or baking sheet. Bake 8 minutes.
Combine 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl with the garlic, rosemary and salt and pepper to taste.
Remove the pizza from the oven, brush with the olive oil mixture and top with the ricotta and mozzarella.
Return the pizza to the oven; bake until the cheese is golden and bubbly, about 6 more minutes. Remove from the oven.
Toss the arugula and shallot in a large bowl with the lemon juice, the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Top the baked pizza with the arugula salad, prosciutto and shaved parmesan cheese. Cut into slices and serve.
The key to motivation in the morning is to get out of a same-old-foods rut and kick-start the day with new, creative ideas. Taking just a few minutes to have something to eat can really make a difference to your day. You can incorporate a healthy breakfast into your everyday routine. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Mediterranean Breakfast Sandwich
- 4 multi-grain sandwich thins
- 4 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon snipped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
- 1 medium tomato, cut into 8 thin slices
- 4 tablespoons feta cheese
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Split sandwich thins; brush cut sides with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil. Place on baking sheet; toast in oven about 5 minutes or until edges are light brown and crisp.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil and the rosemary over medium-high heat. Break eggs, one at a time, into the skillet.
Cook about 1 minute or until whites are set but yolks are still runny. Break yolks with a spatula. Turn eggs over and cook until the yolks are solid. Remove from the heat.
Place the bottom halves of the toasted sandwich thins on four serving plates. Divide spinach among sandwich thins. Top each with two of the tomato slices, an egg and 1 tablespoon of the feta cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with the remaining sandwich thin halves. Serve or wrap in foil for a to-go sandwich.
Homemade Oat Squares
Serve the oat squares in cereal bowls with low-fat milk.
- 1 ½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick cooking)
- 1/4 cup oat bran
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons almond butter
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Nonstick cooking spray
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Place oats in a food processor. Cover and process until finely ground.
Add oat bran, flour, brown sugar, almond butter, the water, honey, baking soda and salt.
Cover and process until combined.
Coat a 9 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
Press oat mixture firmly into the prepared baking pan. Cut mixture into one-inch squares with a sharp knife.
Bake about 30 minutes or until golden.
Turn off the oven; let oat squares dry in the oven with the door closed for 30 minutes.
Remove squares from the pan; break apart. Cool completely.
Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- ½ cup sliced fresh mushrooms
- ½ cup chopped green bell pepper
- 3 ounces diced mozzarella cheese (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 green onion thinly sliced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 whole wheat pita breads
- 1 cup fresh chopped Roma tomatoes
- Grated Parmesan cheese for topping
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a medium skillet, heat oil. Add mushrooms and bell pepper; cook for 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in green onion, garlic and black pepper. Divide mixture in half.
Place pitas on a parchment or foil covered baking sheet. Top each with the mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese and tomato.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.
- 2 slices regular bacon or turkey bacon
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
- 1/4 cup sliced green onions (2)
- 2 cups coarsely chopped, stemmed fresh kale or spinach leaves
- 5 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Four 10 inch high-fiber whole grain flour tortillas, warmed
Coat a large skillet with cooking spray. Cook bacon in the skillet until crisp. Remove to a paper towel, cool and chop; set aside.
Heat the oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add peppers and green onions; cook about 2 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
Add kale or spinach; cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes more or until the kale begins to wilt.
In a medium bowl combine eggs, cottage cheese, Italian seasoning, black pepper and chopped bacon. Pour egg mixture over the vegetables in skillet.
Cook over medium heat. As mixture sets, run a spatula around the edges of skillet, lifting egg mixture so the uncooked portion flows underneath. Continue cooking and lifting edges just until the egg mixture is set.
Slide egg mixture from the skillet onto a cutting board; cut into quarters.
For each wrap, place one egg portion in the center of a tortilla. Fold in opposite sides; roll up. If desired, secure with wooden skewers or wrap in foil for a to-go breakfast.
Breakfast Fruit Parfaits
Prepare the granola in advance, so it is available for a quick breakfast assembly.
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 4 cups regular rolled oats (not quick cooking)
- 1/3 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup toasted unsalted nuts of your choice (I like sliced almonds)
- 1/4 cup honey
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
- 2 ½ cups cubed seasonal fruits, (in winter, use mangoes, kiwifruit, papayas, bananas and/or pineapple)
- 2 cups lime, coconut or a favorite desired flavor of Greek yogurt
- Additional nuts and coconut to sprinkle on the top
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Lightly coat a 15 x 10 x 1-inch baking pan with cooking spray; set aside.
In a medium bowl combine oats, the 1/3 cup coconut and the nuts.
In a small bowl combine honey, oil and brown sugar. Drizzle honey mixture over the oat mixture. Stir until the oats are coated. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring twice. Line a large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Spread the baked granola onto prepared baking sheet and cool.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
To make parfaits:
Place about 2 tablespoons of the cubed fruit in each of eight 6 to 8 ounce glasses. Add 2 tablespoons of yogurt to each glass. Add 1 tablespoon of the granola to each glass. Repeat layers, but do not stir. If desired, top with additional coconut and nuts. Serve immediately or cover and chill for up to 4 hours.
PEACH BREAKFAST PARFAITS:
Prepare granola as directed, except stir 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon into the honey mixture. Assemble parfaits as directed, except substitute chopped, peeled peaches and use peach or honey-flavored Greek yogurt.
BERRY CHEESE PARFAITS:
Prepare granola as directed. For parfaits, substitute 1 1/2 cups mixed fresh berries (such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries or sliced strawberries) and omit the yogurt. In a medium mixing bowl place 12 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, at room temperature, 3 tablespoons honey and 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Beat in 1 to 2 tablespoons milk to make a soft consistency. Assemble as directed above, substituting the cheese mixture for the yogurt. Top with sliced almonds.
CHERRY CHEESE PARFAITS:
Prepare granola as directed. For parfaits, substitute 1 1/2 cups frozen and thawed sweet cherries and omit the yogurt. In a medium mixing bowl place 12 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, at room temperature, 3 tablespoons honey and 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Beat in 1 to 2 tablespoons milk to make a soft consistency. Assemble as directed above, substituting the cheese mixture for the yogurt. Top with sliced almonds.