Fettucine with Peas, Morels and Country Ham

Simple and stupefyingly delicous.

Simple and stupefyingly delicous.

Mike Harper

There is nothing quite like Country Ham.  It’s sometimes called Salty Ham because of its salt cure and strongly salty flavor.  A good one will hold its own against other world-class hams such as Prosciutto (from Italy) and Serrano (from Spain).  The town of Smithfield, south of Richmond, was an early center of ham production and it was heralded for the quality of the ham produced there.  Of all the country hams, those labeled as “Smithfield” are broadly considered the finest. In 1926 the Virginia General Assembly passed a law that said only peanut-fed hogs, cured and processed in the town of Smithfield, could be called Smithfield hams. (It had been the local practice to allow the pigs to roam the peanut fields, foraging for peanuts missed during harvesting.) Later the peanut-fed stipulation was dropped and the hogs are now fed a variety of grains.  Today, there are only four companies that can legally sell their products as Smithfield hams. All other similarly-styled hams are called “country” hams.  Therefore, like “Champagne”, Smithfield is a legally-protected place-name and it means something very specific to the consumer.
The basic method for making a country ham is to generously rub the hind leg of the pig with salt in order to cure the meat. Some country ham producers also use sugar, which will both tenderize and sweeten the meat, and some also smoke the meat. Many producers also use saltpeter (potassium nitrate) in order to aid in the preservation and to give the ham a rich, pink color.
Once the ham is cured, it is then aged for a minimum of 25 days and may be as long as several years depending on the desired style and the leg’s fat content .

PeasMorels and Country Ham

Serves 4 to 6

1 lb. fettucine pasta – dried pasta works very well but, if fresh is available, adjust your cooking time.
1 tbs. canola oil
1 Vidalia onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
8 oz. fresh morel mushrooms  or 6 oz. dried and reconstituted
1 pt heavy cream
2 ½ cups freshly shelled English peas (pre-cooked frozen peas can be substituted)
4-5 oz country ham, cut into very thin strips, ~2in. long
2 tablespoons freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
Freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano, for serving
Coarse salt (for pasta water) and freshly-ground black pepper

Cook the pasta in a large pot of rapidly boiling salted water until al dente, (usually 7 to 10 minutes but check the package instructions).

Meanwhile, heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the ham and onion and cook until the onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender.  Add the cream.
Simmer, stirring frequently, until reduced,  – about 5 minutes. Just before the pasta finishes cooking, add the peas to the cream sauce to warm through.

Drain the pasta well and add to the sauce. Toss to coat and combine.  Season to taste with pepper.  (The sauce will not need salt as the ham is already quite salty.) Transfer to a warm platter and sprinkle with chopped parsley and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Serve immediately.

Fosco Diano d'Alba

Wine Recommendation:

I like a dolcetto with this.  Dolcetto is an Italian grape that produces soft, round and fruity wines with aromas and flavors that include licorice and almonds.  It pairs particularly well with the morels found in this dish.
We have a Diano d’Alba wine in the store that is 100% dolcetto (see  above).  It sells for $19.99/btl and is absolutely delicious.

Published in: on June 7, 2009 at 7:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

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