To try Sally's recipe for prosciutto with figs and raspberries, click here.
I saw some fresh figs in the market the other day and was reminded of the simplest of dishes: prosciutto—ham that's been carefully dry-cured for eight to 24 months—with lush, gently perfumed fruit like figs, melons, peaches, apricots, or plumcots in summer (comice pears, fresh or roasted, in fall). I love this classic combo for breakfast, midnight supper, lone-lazy-dog supper, light lunch, and of course, appetizer.
There is a secret to a marriage of only two or three ingredients like this: that they be at their best. The fruit should be truly ripe and fragrant. The prosciutto should be of fine quality and sliced to order—NOT pre-sliced who-knows-when and pre-sealed in plastic packages, which seem to suffocate its flavors and cause its creamy texture to turn rubbery. This means planning ahead a bit in order to have an ingredient so delicious and complete it requires hardly any effort at all to serve or eat. Once you understand how prosciutto works, you can make it work for you. Here's what you need to know...
Prosciutto is best eaten within a few hours of being sliced, two days max if it's well wrapped and refrigerated (as soon as it's sliced it begins to change), so that's your window. Buy it from a store known for quality (don't buy mass-produced brands like Boar's Head), where they slice their hams to order. If you are unfamiliar with dry-cured hams, your best bet is to buy Prosciutto di Parma, one of the world's great hams, which will have a crown branded into the side that identifies it as the real thing and is a good assurance of quality (feel free to ask to see it). If you like bolder-flavored Prosciutto di Parma, look for a more aged one; the rivet at the top of the hock will show the month and the year the ham began aging. Ten months from that date is a young ham; 15 to 18 months is optimal. Or go with another ham you know to be delicious, like Jamon Ibérico from Spain.