Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Tales of the Unexspeckted

You may have noticed the cured meat item next to the new prosciutto and pancetta down in the meat cases. The La Quercia brand. And you may have wondered, what the heck is Speck?

Speck is a smoked prosciutto from the Tyrol, a region on the border of Italy and Austria. After being cured in salt and spices, the ham is cold-smoked, using a hardwood like beech or (as ours is) applewood.

Okay, so what does this mean to us?

In short, it means we now have a delicious and comparatively low-fat alternative to smoked bacon, which can be used in dishes that call for prosciutto or pancetta but in which you want a hint of smoke flavor. Or in dishes that use smoked ham or bacon, but you want to strike a more subtle note.

The classic Roman pasta all'amatriciana is a fine example. This simple combination of bacon, onion, and tomato benefits enormously from the flavor of speck. The other night I sauteed 3 ounces (one package) of speck, chopped, in a tablespoon of olive oil. When it began to color I added a chopped onion and a few gratings of black pepper. When the onion went transparent, in went a half-dozen large quartered plum tomatoes. A half-hour of simmering yielded a thick and aromatic sauce to be stirred into cooked linguine and topped with grated asiago. Best all'amatriciana we ever had...and I've made in in the past with everything from deli ham to guanciale.

When we sampled the La Quercia pancetta and prosciutto, we didn't think speck was something that would become a Coop favorite. But after tasting it, everyone here agreed that it certainly deserved to be.

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