Simple Gifts for Snowy Drifts

AsparagusProsciutto_1A bomb cyclone just passed through New York…for the third time this year. And it was just as unpleasant as the last two. When the weather gets this bad, I go for simple recipes – because #ComfortFood makes everything better. It also helps if you don’t have to leave your house/apartment/comfy Ikea couch…so fortunately for me I had a pantry that could produce Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus as well as a Classic Grilled Cheese; both of which are a perfect match for a day when dense, heavy sheets of what appear to be wet flour are cascading from the sky. Gross. 
Asparagus_1Because I’m a nut for history, I thought, “If this dish is so easy, how easy is it to make Prosciutto?” Turns out…it’s not easy at all. BUT (good news!) it is easy to find prosciutto at almost any grocer. Italian in origin, Prosciutto – like Champagne and Gorgonzola – is a “protected designation of origin” product, in that its name can only be assigned to meats created under specific conditions and within certain territories. I had purple asparagus for this dish as well, which was also first produced in Italy (called Violetto d’ Albenga…great name for an opera character, FYI).
Asparagus Prosciutto 2The recipe for this dish is quite simple: you wrap each spear with a slice of prosciutto, arrange them on a roasting pan, drizzle some olive oil, pepper and salt over the spears, and roast. You want to cook the dish at a high heat, so that the asparagus and prosciutto crisp but don’t overcook. Since there are only two ingredients, you should aim for quality asparagus and prosciutto. For those of you wondering if bacon is a substitute, it will definitely work – albeit with a very different flavor profile (though still delicious). Click HERE to see how to make this delectably simple side. 
GrilledCheese_1This next recipe is a great way to use up any leftover cheeses you have in your fridge – I had some sharp cheddar, and shredded about a cup for this recipe. While most recipes swear by American cheese – given its melt factor – I personally think any cheese will do the trick. I also love to use a good quality butter for grilled cheese. My mantra: if you have to use fatty ingredients, go for the best. I actually used Kerrygold butter and cheddar…mere coincidence. For the bread, I highly recommend using a good sourdough. Pictured is a whole wheat variety from Trader Joe’s that is my latest obsession.
DSC_0793A cast iron is the quintessential tool for a grilled cheese, but a nonstick pan will do in a pinch (what I used). To ensure the cheese melts fully, I put the lid on after I flip the sandwich – but allowed it cook for a few seconds after flipping sans lid to prevent steam being captured underneath (no one likes a soggy sandwich). Of course, there is no right or wrong way to make this classic: at the end of the day it’s toasted bread and melted cheese. Though I recommend skipping the Benny & Joon method…where Johnny Depp used a clothes iron. Click HERE to see my method for this American classic. 
I actually thought of the musical pairing before the food – as I’d been considering the piece for some time. It’s the “Variation on a Shaker Melody: ‘Simple Gifts'” from Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Originally a ballet, today the larger work is performed as an orchestral suite. The ballet premiered in 1944, and the Suite just one year later with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Serge Koussevitsky. The work embodies the spirit of the American pioneer, against the backdrop of early 19th century Appalachia. The shaker melody is one of the more famous moments of the piece, and perhaps the most recognizable. The tune “Simple Gifts”, 170 years old this year, was in relative obscurity until Copland’s Appalachian Spring – and as you will hear in the clip below, it was a great addition to the classical canon. The recording features the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein. Enjoy!

“Appalachian Spring,”


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