Late-night forays are an ignored yet vital dining category. The assumption is that we'll stand at the open fridge forking up sustenance directly from the storage container. Well, let's put a little class into the act, as in a dish from the Italian city of Parma, where the curing of ham is taken very seriously.
Ten minutes gives you a pasta of savory ham with bright-tasting tomato, garlic, onion, and a touch of barely melted sweet butter. This is the way to smooth out the end of a long day.
Cook to Cook: Prosciutto di Parma sets the bar high in the world of hams — never salty, it tastes of concentrated essence of good pork. Up until a while ago, no American ham matched it. Now there's Iowa's La Quercia, and no doubt more artisans will follow. Taste as you find them and see what you think. Also, prosciutto freezes well, so it's easy to keep on hand.
Wine: Look for a light but ripe Italian red, like a Valpolicella Ripasso from the Veneto.
1. In a 12-inch sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, pressing it down in the oil, for 1 minute, or until slightly softened and pale golden. Do not burn. Pull the garlic from the pan and keep it handy.
2. Add the onion and parsley to the pan, cover, and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes, or until the onion is soft and clear. At this point the pan could be set aside off the heat until shortly before serving.
3. When ready to eat, return the pan to the stove and raise the heat to medium. Stir in one fourth of the prosciutto and cook for about 2 minutes. The onion should just start to color. Add the reserved garlic and toss in the cooked pasta, butter, and tomatoes and the rest of the prosciutto. Toss over medium heat to thoroughly combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Turn the pasta into a serving bowl. Pass the cheese separately, but be certain to use it, as it is the final seasoning of the dish.
Pasta in Brief
Never add oil to the water; it won't keep the pasta from sticking; only boiling in a generous amount of water will.
Pasta water should taste like the sea. Be generous with the salt.
If the pasta box directs "rinse after boiling," put the box back on the shelf and walk away. It's a low-grade pasta.
From The Splendid Table's® How to Eat Weekends: New Recipes, Stories & Opinions from Public Radio's Award-Winning Food Show by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2011). Copyright © 2011 by American Public Media. Photographs copyright © 2011 by Ellen Silverman.
Richard Wrangham, a professor at Harvard University and author of Catching Fire, studies the role of cooking in human evolution. "Once you start thinking about the importance of cooking -- its supply of energy, its strange distribution compared to natural foods -- it's bound to have affected our evolution hugely, our behavior, our society, our cognition, all sorts of features about us," he says.