My sister's best friend from college was coming to visit me for lunch. We had not seen each other in thirty years, but I remembered him as very sweet. I also knew that he is a man of impecable taste, being a recognized and well respected interior designer in the south east of the States. I was a bit nervous-- what to cook for him? He eats out all the time, he styles for magazines and designs professional athlete's homes.
In the end, I gave up trying to figure out something sophisticated and went for simplicity: Pasta with fresh artichokes and prosciutto (or Spanish Serrano). Some rich, fruity olive oil, some scratchings of Parmesan and a sprinkling of homemade, crunchy breadcrumbs and it made a fine, rustic lunch.
This dish is heavy on the prep work, BUT, after that is done it's a snap to throw together just before serving.
4 ounces prosciutto- the best quality you can afford
Extra virgin olive oil
Handful of freshly made breadcrumbs
1 large, banana shaped shallot, or 2 round shallots, peeled and minced
More olive oil
Handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
12 ounces slow dried pasta (tastes better/worth the money)
1) Prepare the artichokes: Rip all of the leaves off and discard or simmer and eat later. Scoop the choke out (the soft, fury center). Trim the tough, green outer part off of the stem and base, discard, then slice what's left thinly. You can store in acidulated water (H2O with lemon) but I find that the artichokes turn sort of grey/green after being cooked anyway, so, in this dish, why bother? Simmer the artichoke pieces in salted water for 5 minutes, until just softened. Drain and set aside.
2) Slice the prosciutto up into small bite size pieces, set aside.
3) Prepare the breadcrumbs by toasting some bread, letting it cool, then smashing it into crumbs, in a zip lock bag, with a rolling pin. Then, saute for just a few minutes over a gentle heat in some olive oil and maybe some butter until crisp. Set aside.
4) Start a big pot of water to boil for the pasta. When you put the pasta into the boiling water, start the sauce-- it's THAT quick.
5) Place the pasta in the boiling water. Now, coat the bottom of a saute pan with olive oil. Don't be stingy. Now add in the shallots and saute over medium-high heat until they are soft, then add in the artichoke slices and saute for a few minutes. Drain the pasta (cooked al dente) and toss it into the saute pan. Chuck in the prosciutto and a handful of Parmesan, and toss well. Drizzle over more olive oil if you like. Plate up and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Serve with freshly cracked black pepper.