My mother-in-law grew up in class-conscious, post-war England. Her mother was determined not to have her children’s social status be evident by less-than-exemplary table manners. So family lore presents her as unbending in her instruction of the proper dos and don’ts of sharing a formal meal. By her standards, the only food permissibly eaten with your fingers -- and not a fork -- was asparagus. This appetizer is a nod to eating asparagus sans silverware.
Note: The obvious cheese to use here is parmesan reggiano given the prosciutto, but I think it adds a bit too much salt. And since I read a profile on Dame Helen Mirren last spring in which she confessed to always keeping a piece of good quality Comté in her fridge, I do as well in hopes that it will be the magic ingredient for me, too, to look fabulous in a bikini at 60.
fresh asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed to an equal length
finely grated lemon zest
finely minced garlic
Freshly ground pepper
slices of prosciutto (the highest quality and the thinnest slices you can get your hands on)
Place the asparagus spears in shallow boiling salted water and cook them for only two minutes. You just want to bring out the spring green color here and not cook them all the way through. Immediately drain them, place in an ice bath to shock them and set the color. Lay them flat on a paper towel so that they dry completely.
Melt butter over very low heat. Remove from heat and add garlic, zest and fresh ground pepper to taste. Keep the butter mixture warm and in a liquid state.
Cut the pieces of prosciutto in half lengthwise to get 12 more or less equally size strips. Sprinkle each strip of prosciutto with a teaspoon or so of Comté. Wrap one piece of prosciutto – cheese side in – around one spear of asparagus. Set spears aside.
Lay one piece of phyllo on the counter. Using a pastry brush spread some butter mixture all over it, making sure that some of the garlic and the lemon zest are also dispersed. Lay a second piece of phyllo on top of the first piece. Smooth the surface so that the two pieces adhere to each other. Cut the phyllo into 3-inch strips. Wrap one strip of phyllo around one prosciutto wrapped spear and set on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat this process until all of the spears are wrapped.
At this juncture you can throw these in the fridge until you are ready to cook them off.
To cook them, preheat the oven to 350 degrees (a convection oven will do just fine here to speed up the process) and place the tray of phyllo-prosciutto wrapped spears in the oven. It should take between 12 and 20 minutes for the phyllo to turn golden brown.
I am an excellent eater (I have been all my life). I’m a pretty good cook (Ask my kids!). And my passable writing improves with alcohol (whether it's the writer or the reader that needs to drink varies by sentence.). I just published my first cookbook, Green Plate Special, which focuses on delicious recipes that help every day cooks eat more sustainably.