Should you be lucky enough to find some asparagus in your area, you should give this simple yet delicious appetizer a try. We’re still seeing asparagus here in Montreal. I guess sometimes it pays to live in a colder climate. Hmmm. I’ll have to re-think that comment.
You all know prosciutto. But are you familiar with speck? Speck is, basically, smoked prosciutto. And if you love prosciutto, you will love speck! Native to the Alto Adige, a region of Northern Italy which straddles Southern Austria, speck is a protected designation of origin (D.O.P.), as with most Italian food products. This guarantees that we are getting a product that tastes as good as traditional prosciutto and made in a way that honors the small-scale handmade approach to smoking meat. The cuisine for this part of Italy, which includes the province of Bolzano, is quite distinctive and speck is one of the most prominent.
Making speck begins with curing the legs of pork in salt and a spice combination which may include juniper berries, laurel, pepper, nutmeg and coriander. After this the smoking process begins. Speck is smoked slowly and intermittently for two or three hours a day, with the whole process taking about 3 months. Slow smoking allows for the inner layers of meat to be really penetrated with the flavours of the wood – commonly juniper and pine woods.
In the Alto Adige, speck is highly revered and is often eaten with most meals. It is equally revered in my home as well. Deep red in color with heavily marbled traces of fat, speck is served thinly sliced as an appetizer, or used to flavor cooked dishes. Or as I like to use it, rolled around a beautifully roasted or grilled asparagus spear!
Asparagus Bites with Speck
a bunch of asparagus
thinly sliced speck, or your personal favourite ham or cured meat
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Trim off the tough ends of the asparagus. Lay them out in a roasting pan. Drizzle with some olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Give them a gentle toss with your hands.
Pop them in a 400 degree F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus. You want them to have a certain crunch and firmness to them so that once wrapped with the speck, or ham, it can be picked up with your hand and be easily munched on without falling apart. Once done, allow to cool completely.
When they’ve cooled, you can begin to roll the speck around the spears. Begin with the slice of meat facing you on the horizontal, and place the spear vertically on one end. As you begin to roll, do so at a slightly twisted angle, allowing for the speck to twist around the spear, covering most of it.
Serve immediately. Otherwise, cover with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated. Remove from fridge 30 minutes before serving. Enjoy!