Whether we are entertaining or just looking for a savory snack, cured meats always make for an easy, healthy option to us an Italy. Out of the over 700 varieties of charcuteries available in Italy, there are two that are particularly appreciated by food lovers all over the world: prosciutto and bresaola.
Prosciutto generically means ham in Italian: what is usually called prosciutto abroad is cured ham (prosciutto crudo). Although it has many regional variations – several of which are true food excellences covered by the Protected Designation of Origin (DOP), such as San Daniele from Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Cinta Senese from Tuscany – the most popular one is Prosciutto di Parma. The name bresaola refers only to a type of dried salted meat with an IGP trademark (Protected Geographical Indication) that limits its production only to certified master butchers in the Lombardy region, mainly located in Valtellina, an Alpine valley in Northern Italy.
Whereas prosciutto is produced by curing a leg of pork with pure sea salt in order to keep the meat as sweet-tasting and tender as possible, bresaola is one of the few cured meats made of beef therefore it is the ideal choice for those who do not eat pork but do not want to miss the opportunity to enjoy an Italian excellence either. Produced using a very lean cut of beef with almost no fat at all, bresaola gets first rubbed with a mix of salt and the right combination of spices, then air dried from two to four months.
Prosciutto is fairly high in fat but it is an excellent source of protein, potassium, and iron; being made from a single muscle, with any outer fat removed before curing, means that bresaola is leaner (only 151 calories in 100g) and – as a beef product – it is high in protein (32g in 100g), B-vitamins, zinc and iron.
What is really good about cured meats is that they do not require cooking therefore they are perfect for a quick meal without having to resort to fast food. Because of its mild, delicate taste, bresaola gives its best when served thinly sliced with fresh arugula, a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and Parmigiano shavings. It also makes an elegant starter when each single slice is wrapped around a spoonful of Stracchino mixed with roughly chopped walnuts. As for the main course, it is typically used to prepare a Risotto together with Gorgonzola cheese. Prosciutto crudo, which in comparison has a stronger taste, pairs wonderfully with melon, chunks of Parmigiano and fresh figs. It is also the perfect topping for a typical Italian bruschetta and, cut in chunks, it is often sautéed together with sweet peas for a healthy and tasty side dish. Laying slices of prosciutto or bresaola over a pizza that has just been removed from the oven enhances the flavor of these cured meats and that of the pizza as well.