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Melon and Prosciutto: The perfect combo on hot summer days

06/24/2014 1:29 PM

Some things were just meant to go together in a kitchen.

Chicken and waffles, peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, biscuits and gravy, steak and potatoes … The list is endless.

Summer brings many ingredients together and in the Italian kitchen, traditions are plenty this time of year. Two ingredients that have been around for centuries and are the perfect marriage are Prosciutto ham and cantaloupe.

A simple appetizer found on almost every summer menu in an Italian restaurant and perhaps the most popular dish enjoyed by locals and tourists.

A book, Italian Food Rules — yes there is one — by Ann Reavis claims that Italians always eat their melon with prosciutto so it warms the chill of melon.

Rarely do Italians like ice cold fruit and legend has it in 1471, Pope Paul II died from eating chilled cantaloupes. The melon caused fatal indigestion when the organs became chilled. Believe it or not.

Italians also love sweet and savory, and melon and prosciutto make for this taste-bud sensation. On a hot summer day, this dish could be just the perfect refresher, light but filling, and yet so delicious.

Twenty five years ago, I was experimenting in my kitchen and I decided I wanted a new summer pasta dish to serve. I will never forget when the bell rang in my head and I decided to sauté some melon in butter and add prosciutto.

The melon softens and actually becomes sweeter, the nuttiness of the butter comes out after browning and when the prosciutto becomes crisp — pure heaven my friends. I added some cream and grated cheese, tossed in some pasta and voila, my dish was created.

Over the years I have worked on the recipe, adding fresh mint, different cheeses and various cuts of pasta but I always go back to the original recipe and once someone tries this recipe, they are hooked.

I will admit, no other ham works and no other melon. Believe me, watermelon has, how do I say, too much water? Black Forest ham, no way. Prosciutto and cantaloupe and that is it. No substitutions allowed.

As we begin the first week of summer, the days become very hot and you need to cool down after a long day. Sweet and savory perhaps? I urge you to try this dish in your kitchen. See for yourself and you be the judge.

I can almost guarantee it will be a regular dish on your menu. I can’t think of a better dish to enjoy this summer. Just remember, never eat the melon by itself, you know what can happen.

Like my Nana always said: Mangia! Mangia!

Chef Jasper’s Pasta, Melon and Prosciutto

1 medium over-ripe cantaloupe

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup Prosciutto de Parma, diced

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1 pound rigatoni, cooked according to package instructions

1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Cracked black pepper to taste

Peal and see the cantaloupe and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the cantaloupe and prosciutto and sauté until the melon is soft, 3 to 5 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper and then add the cream and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and toss until the pasta is coated evenly. Sprinkle with cheese, add cracked pepper and mix well, serve immediately.

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.

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