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OISHII / Croccante and raw ham wraps go great with wine

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Cheese croccante is placed stylishly over green leaves wrapped with vividly colored raw ham.

The Yomiuri ShimbunCroccante, raw ham wraps

In this column, chefs and cooking experts share recipes that are easy to prepare at home.

What constitutes a perfect snack when making a toast with a glass of good wine on a special occasion? Chef Ryuichi Hamasaki recommends fresh vegetables wrapped in raw ham and paired with thinly baked Parmesan cheese. This beautiful, vibrantly colored combination will brighten the mood on a chilly night, especially with a glass of wine at hand.

The Parmesan creation, called cheese croccante, is visually impressive — its thin, netlike appearance resembles 3-D lace. Hamasaki learned to make it while he was training in Italy.

“Croccante means crispy in Italian,” said Hamasaki, who owns the Ristorante Hamasaki Italian restaurant in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. He offered several tips on how to prepare the cheese: “Grate the cheese and sift so the powder has a uniform size,” he said.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Salami and raw ham

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Step 2, left, and step 3 for cheese croccante

The cheese should be grated and chilled in the refrigerator just before being baked so that the powder becomes smooth and easy to handle.

Hamasaki ladled the cheese powder into a heated pan with a spoon and then used the spoon to spread it out in one direction. “Don’t pat it too much,” he said.

When clear fat appears on the cheese’s surface and begins crackling, dab it lightly with kitchen paper to remove it. This process takes less than a minute and makes the cheese crispy, Hamasaki said.

He peeled the cheese off the pan and left it on a sheet of aluminum foil. The cheese quickly solidifies as it cools. When put on a cylindrical object such as a rolling pin wrapped with foil, the cheese forms a curve.

“Eat it as soon as possible, because the texture loses its crispiness as time passes,” he said.

For that reason, it’s wise to make the ham roll-ups first. Raw ham is very thin so it tears easily. Hamasaki recommends using plastic wrap to roll up ingredients and keep in the refrigerator. Arugula and red-leafed Italian chicory can be ideal for this.

“Use whatever you like. Lettuce leaves, celery and boiled potatoes also are good,” he said.

The light texture and saltiness of croccante are addicting, while the saltiness of the raw ham and subtle bitterness of the vegetables offer a sophisticated taste. Visually pleasing and delicious, this combination is a fun companion for wine.

Raw ham for dashi

It is convenient to always have raw ham on hand, Hamasaki said. It can be used in a soup or as an ingredient for carbonara and other pasta dishes.

“It creates a rich and savory flavor. It can be used in a similar way to making dashi stock,” said Hamasaki, adding that this requires careful seasoning, as the ham itself has a strong salty flavor.

Rare types of raw ham such as smoked pork cheek are also available these days, and the chef said salami is another easy-to-use ingredient.

Recipes for cheese croccante, raw ham-wrapped veggies

Ingredients (serves 2):

50 grams Parmesan cheese

4 slices raw ham

80 grams mozzarella cheese

4 sprigs of Italian parsley

4 arugula leaves

2 to 3 Italian chicory leaves

2 chicory leaves

Directions:

Cheese croccante

1. Grate Parmesan cheese and sift with strainer.

2. Warm non-stick frying pan. Take pan off heat and spread powder over pan quickly one tablespoon at a time. Put pan back on heat. When cheese crackles, tap surface with kitchen paper to dab fat away.

3. Take pan off heat. Peel cheese off pan with saibashi long cooking chopsticks and place on a cylindrical item wrapped with aluminum foil to cool.

Raw ham roll-ups (4)

1. Spread food wrap and place raw ham flat on it.

2. Cut mozzarella cheese into strips and chicory leaves in half. Tear Italian chicory leaves into bite-size pieces. Place mozzarella, cut leaves, arugula leaves and parsley sprigs on raw ham and roll up.

When finished, place roll-ups on plate and top with croccante. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil if desired.

To find out more about Japan’s attractions, visit http://the-japan-news.com/news/d&dSpeech

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