Italian Easy

Italian Easy focuses on casual, home-style Italian cooking. Superb Italian food needn't be time consuming or overly complex. The essence of Italian cooking is simplicity. Use the freshest seasonal ingredients possible, then use basic cooking techniques only to enhance the natural flavor of the food. Come join Deborah Mele of Italian Food Forever every other week for a new recipe.

Italian Easy: Pasta With Figs and Prosciutto

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[Photographs: Deborah Mele]

Fall in Umbria is truly a magical time. The frantic summer season packed full of festivals celebrating food, art, and history give way to what is really important to the region. Namely, making amazing wine and olive oil. We do still have a handful of significant food festivals each fall dedicated to such important local treasures as Umbria's earthy black truffles, chestnuts, black celery, and, of course, the grape and olive oil harvest, but things settle down each fall as folks prepare for winter. The arrival of fall is also reflected in our local outdoor markets, which are now overflowing with pears, apples, quince, plums, and my favorite fall fruit, figs.

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Figs picked from the wild fig tree behind our farmhouse.

Although I never had the opportunity to enjoy the taste of a ripe, luscious fresh fig until I was an adult, figs have become a personal favorite of mine. Since the fresh fig season is so short, I utilize them daily when they're available by making jams, mixing them with apples or pears in fruit tarts for our farmhouse guests, or as an appetizer wrapped in prosciutto and grilled.

One of my favorite fig preparations is this tasty, unique pasta dish. It's yet another easy pasta dish that comes together in mere minutes, but since you need fresh figs and their season is so short, it has become a special annual treat for us.

The combination of the sweet figs and salty prosciutto works amazingly well in many recipes. Here, pasta serves as a vessel for chopped figs and prosciutto that have just barely cooked in a little hot olive oil, flavored with onions and garlic. A pinch of red chili pepper and some cracked black pepper add a little heat, while fresh parsley and lightly toasted pine nuts add color, texture, and freshness to the completed dish. I offer grated cheese at the table, preferably Pecorino Romano, although grated Parmesan is also acceptable.

You can use any variety of figs for this recipe, as long as they're fresh. I'm lucky enough to have a wild green fig tree growing in the field behind my house, so they're my go-to, but I've used black figs and found they were just as tasty. Pick plump figs that feel soft—not mushy—with no bruising, wrinkling, or splits. Ripe figs may be covered with a whitish bloom, which simply lets you know they're at their peak. You can wrap figs individually in wax or parchment paper and store them in the refrigerator for two or three days, but they're best used at room temperature. When you get them home from the market, gently wipe the skins with a damp cloth and trim off the stem and a thin slice off the bottom before you chop them for this recipe, to ensure you don't have any unpleasant hard bits in your completed dish.

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I use local prosciutto made here in Umbria, called Prosciutto di Norcia, but any good quality prosciutto will do. Do have it sliced thinly, though, so it doesn't overpower the subtle sweetness of the figs. I'd also discourage you from adding any additional salt to this dish apart from salt in the pasta water, since prosciutto is quite salty to begin with.

About the Author: Deborah Mele is the owner of Italian Food Forever, an Italian recipe blog, as well as Recipe Rebuild, a healthy recipe blog she shares with her daughter Christy, an RD. Deborah lives 6 months a year in Umbria, Italy where she oversees her guest house Il Casale di Mele.

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