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May 17, 2011

Prosciutto, passion fruit, zuta levana

Last Monday evening, I ran into these guys:


And, really... isn't that how we'd all love to spend every Monday night?  In the presence of those who inspire, teach, motivate, (and intimidate) us?

Going to the James Beard Awards and seeing Chef Keller and Chef Achatz (among many, many other chefs and industry folks I admire and adore) couldn't have come at a better time. I desperately needed that time in New York, and to be surrounded by people who love to cook and eat.  It was a fun night seeing everyone looking so glam and so full of energy.  I had a blast in the press room with my fellow writers and media folks, as well as at the after-party at Per Se where we celebrated their win for Outstanding Service, and it was just an all-around great night.  I am a lucky, lucky girl.

And, it was the perfect way to kick off a week in which I knew I'd be making a dish from the Alinea cookbook that has intimidated me from the get-go: Prosciutto, passion fruit, zuta levana.  

If you have the Alinea cookbook, turn to page 144 and just look at that beautiful thing.  It's one of the first pages I looked at when I first got the book, and I remember thinking, "I will never be able to make that."

Honestly, there's no magic technique or crazy, hard-to-find ingredients.  It's really pretty straightforward.  But, the photo of it in the book is just so beautiful.  It's always intimidated me because, as we all know, my re-creations of Grant's food are, um, not always necessarily the most appealing in their final form.  I do get some of them right, and some of the things I make are visually appealing, but this one has always been the one that I wanted to do well.  I did not want it to look like Sleestak vomit.

Let's see if I can pull this one off, shall we?

The first thing I did was roll the prosciutto into a cylinder.  The book calls for five slices of 3x12" prosciutto.  Mine came already-cut in 3x6" pieces (or thereabouts), so I just doubled the amount, and layered them, and rolled them like so:



Then, I wrapped it tight in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer for six hours.  The book says to freeze it overnight... which for me, is five hours (thanks, insomnia!).


While the prosciutto was freezing, I got to work on the passion fruit sponge.

Herewith, a passion fruit:


One of the things I love about doing this blog is getting to work with some of my favorite foods in whole new ways.  I love passion fruit.  Love it.  Would eat it every day if I could.  It's sweet and tart and a little bite-y, but when manipulated with just a wee bit of sugar, it evolves into this bold, amazing taste that I just can't get enough of.  I wish they were a) available year-round; and 2) less expensive than they are.

I halved eight passion fruits, scooped out the pulp and seeds, and pressed the pulp and juice through a fine-mesh strainer and discarded the seeds. 




I puréed the pulp and liquid in the blender until it was smoother than silk. I measured 15g of it for the sponge and froze the rest for future use.

I made simple syrup with the rinds (luckily the book has you make more than you need, so I had a little extra to put into my glass of iced tea the next day):

I put 100g of that passion fruit simple syrup into a saucepan along with some of the passion fruit purée (the orange stuff you saw earlier), water, salt, and citric acid.  Brought it to a boil over medium heat...

I whisked in seven gelatin sheets (which I'd soaked in cold water for a few minuted) and stirred until they had dissolved.  I poured that mixture into the bowl of my Kitchen Aid mixer and let it come closer to room temperature (15 minutes). 

Then, I whipped the hell out of it with the whisk attachment on the mixer -- on high speed, it took 12 minutes for stiff peaks to form.

I plopped it into a plastic-lined, chilled baking dish and leveled it with an offset spatula:


I put that pinky-orangeish sponge into the refrigerator to set for a few hours.  While that was doing its thang, I took the prosciutto out of the freezer, unwrapped it, and (using my awesome knife skillz, meat slicer be damned) sliced thin medallions which I put into the dehydrator for four hours:


When the prosciutto was done, I used a little 2" round cutter to cut cylinders out of the sponge so that I had something to put between the two prosciutto slices (which I garnished with a few fresh baby mint leaves from the garden -- zuta levana is minty, so baby mint leaves were a great substitute):


It's like a ham and passion fruit ice cream sandwich.  It's phenomenal.  It kicks the ass of prosciutto-wrapped melon.  It pummels bacon-wrapped anything.  It's salty, it's sweet, it's tart, it's fresh/green, it's smooth, it's crunchy and chewy, and finishes so nicely when all is said and done.

I had about 20 prosciutto chips and a huge tray of the sponge, so to extend the dish to as many neighborhood tasters as I could (I'm like Jesus that way, y'all), I just put a cylinder of the passion fruit sponge atop a prosciutto chip and topped it with a baby mint leaf.  Didn't top it with another prosciutto chip.  Looked lovely on the plate, and makes me want to file this one away in my Make This For a Cocktail Party folder.

You guys -- you have to make this.  Seriously.  It's not difficult at all -- and, you can skip the whole "serve it on a bed of sprouting thyme" bit, because while that is lovely and beautiful and striking and stuff, the minute you see these little guys all put together, you'll want to eat them and you won't care what it's being served on, I promise.


And, yay for it not looking like Sleestak vomit!  Is there a James Beard award for that?  No?  THERE SHOULD BE.

EXTRA AWESOME THING I WANTED TO TELL YOU ABOUT: The awesome Kat Kinsman and I compared finger injuries in the press room at the James Beard Awards, and she turned it into a story on CNN's Eatocracy.

Up Next: Not sure, yet. Probably another dish with passion fruit, since I have a box of them in my fridge.

Resources: Passion fruit from Wegmans; Domino sugar; gelatin sheets and citric acid from L'Epicerie; David's kosher salt; prosciutto San Daniele; mint from my garden.

Music to Cook By: Foals; Total Life Forever.  Whenever I'm jonesing for a trip to LA (I am now, bigtime), I tune into KCRW online and download their "Song of the Day" podcast.  Nine times out of ten, I love what they've chosen, and a few weeks ago I went through the KCRW podcast archive on my laptop and happened upon the band Foals and their album "Total Life Forever."  I listened to some sample tracks and had to download the whole thing immediately.  It's a got a very early 80s feel -- particularly with two of the songs: Blue Blood and Black Gold.  I just love this album, and foresee it becoming part of my ever-growing driving-to-the-beach playlist.

Read My Previous Post: Leftovers -- Deep-fried almonds over broccoli, garlic, and pecorino-romano


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Totally jealous that you met up with (and took their picture) two legends in the field.

I love Grant's book so far too. Very engaging. Thanks for sending it my way!

Any advice on how to do this without a food dehydrator? I do have an electric/convection oven...

I just get a kick out of seeing Chef Keller and Chef Achatz (they always look so mischievous!). It reminds me when, a couple of years ago, when the ICP was doing their thing in town (Portland), I had to run into the hotel to get a pass to a dinner I bought off of someone, and I passed by Chef Keller. I paused for a second, thinking, "that man looks just like Thomas Keller!", but I didn't think he was in town for the festivities. I got back to work (across the street!), checked almighty google, and sure enough, Chef Keller was most definitely in town. I nearly died. I wish I would have stopped to just, I don't know, gush and shake his hand and cry. Fleeting moments of greatness...

Well, thank God it didn't look like Sleestak Vomit because we all really hate that! This dish sounds amazing and something that I could actually do - and will if the proscuitto can be dried in a low convection oven. I stupidly gave my old dehydrator away a couple of years ago. Hope your finger is better.

Passion fruit is one of my favorite fruits, too. I hadn't thought about it with something salty, though, which I now CAN'T stop thinking about. I have the Alinea cookbook, so I think I'm gonna have to make this. You're right -- this looks completely doable. Congrats! (and, nice pic of Chefs Keller and Achatz -- they look great)

Carol, I love this post! Like you, I am kind of obsessed with the photo of this dish in the book. And, before I read the actual recipe, I thought it was a big disk of passion fruit and prosciutto... which we can all agree would be a very good thing. Knowing it's actually a bite-sized thing thrills me (and I'm not sure why, other than the fact that I can eat 10 of them and not feel guilty at all).

Bravo! And, I loved your Beard Awards tweets. You crack me up, girlie. I watched the live stream of the awards, but your Tweets made my night. Glad you got to cover it. Loved your insights.

Okay, so while I'm glad this dish worked out and was gorgeous, you know how much we love it (and your writing) when the dishes DO end up looking like Sleestak vomit. So, I beg of you - can you please screw something up soon? 'Cause those posts make me feel better about my own cooking mistakes and screwups. Ha!!

Goodness gracious that's gorgeous!

Did you say anything to them? Did they say anything to you?

"Hey! I'm the one who's cooking your whole book and blogging about it!"

[Mari: We know one another fairly well at this point. :) ]

What a great picture of two legends in the field! I also like how they've dressed similar. :-)
For the dish, it looks so tasty, but I think I need to buy a dehydrator.

That looks fantastic. Its going to take a heap of self control on my part not to rush out and buy a dehydrator now!

What a gorgeous picture of Chefs Keller and Achatz - am I crazy to confess it made me cry a bit? Their expressions, the mentor and mentee-made-good relationships, the fact that Grant is alive and thriving, the pursuit of excellence that they share...inspiring courage and dedication at every level. And such sweet faces. I love it.

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