Coming Up Dry



I drove through California’s Central Valley—America’s fruit basket—not two weeks ago, and it was positively Steinbeckian. Dust devils swirled like tumbleweeds along roadsides, their fine particles mixing with wildfire smoke to produce a lung-lining adherent that hung in the air over fields of endless brown.

Like the biblical draught that bedevils California, the words have dried up here at hapanings. Six months into writing this blog, and this week, I’ve got nothing to say. But, as always, I do have something to eat, so let me feed you in spite of this dry spell.

You will want something juicy, mouth-watering and fresh, I’m sure, given the circumstances. Brace yourselves, then, because I am giving you breadcrumbs—crunchy, craggy, salty breadcrumbs. Curse me now if you wish, but you will thank me in the end.

The recipe is exquisitely simple—it has but three ingredients: stale bread, olive oil, and prosciutto. It is also extremely versatile, and if you are not careful, you will find yourself piling these savory little nubs onto three squares a day until they disappear, which they will, all too soon.

Prosciutto Breadcrumbs

What you will need:
-a leftover hunk of day-old baguette (sweet or sourdough, whichever you prefer)
-a couple of ounces of prosciutto, preferably a 1/8-inch thick (or thicker) slice
-a Tablespoon or two of olive oil

Here’s what you do:
1)  Remove the crust from the bread with a sharp bread knife, tear the bread into chunks and place them a food processor. Process until you have breadcrumbs that are roughly pea-sized. Remove and set aside.
2)  Cut the prosciutto slab into 1-inch pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse until you have small nubs of prosciutto about the same size as your crumbs. Be careful not to mush your lovely, expensive prosciutto into a pink, viscous paste.
3)  In a large skillet, warm the olive oil. When hot, add breadcrumbs and prosciutto, and cook, stirring, over medium heat until bread crumbs and prosciutto are golden brown. Remove to a bowl. Breadcrumbs will get crunchier as they cool.

Note that these are salty little nuggets, so take care not to over salt whatever you are adding them too, which could be: pasta, eggs, tomato slices, salads, soups, congee, fried rice, cooked greens, summer squash, baked potatoes, etc.

My favorite application of the prosciutto breadcrumb is this: Cook up some pasta, whatever shape or strand you like. Meanwhile, sauté a little garlic and red chili flake in olive oil. When the pasta is done, toss with garlicky oil and a handful of prosciutto breadcrumbs. Top this with a poached or fried egg, a few more breadcrumbs, some grated Parmigiano Reggiano and freshly ground black pepper. Dive in.

I have taken to stocking my freezer with little slabs of prosciutto just so I can have this whenever I like. I go to the deli counter and ask the nice folks there to give me one or two “number 7” slices of prosciutto. This will end up weighing up to half a pound if sliced at the widest part of the ham, so be prepared to fork over some money. Once I get them home, I portion the slabs into smaller chunks, wrap them in foil, and freeze them for when the craving strikes.

Like a squirrel storing nuts for winter, you might just want to stock your freezer now. El Nino is coming, they say, which means that two or three months from now, you will be standing in your kitchen lamenting the fact that you have nothing for dinner, while the downpour outside threatens to turn your street into a river. The last thing you will want to do then, is to don your rain boots and slicker and ford your way out to the store. When the mudslides hit, wouldn’t you rather be sitting at home with a nice glass of wine and a bowl full of chewy, eggy, salty crunchy, cheesy, peppery linguine?

I told you you would thank me in the end.




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