The base of this recipe - and the sauce technique - is based on the well-known Roman dish, Cacio e Pepe that is making a fast comeback in chef and foodie circles. It is known for minimal ingredients and, when perfected, its incredible yet simple flavor. The key to perfecting the sauce is to slowly add very finely grated cheese to the emulsified olive oil and pasta water BEFORE adding the pasta or any other addition. Trust me on this one. This allows the sauce to become creamy and blended, coating each strand perfectly once the pasta is added. This recipe is how to build on that basic pasta technique by adding color and depth of flavor with the rapini, a touch of brightness from the lemon, and texture with the crispy prosciutto. —Jess Lewis
In a large frying pan, fry the prosciutto de parma until slightly crispy and brown. Similar to bacon, it will fry without added oil as its own fat renders under the heat. Remove from pan and place onto a paper towel-lined plate. Set aside. The prosciutto will continue to get a little crispy as it cools.
Using the same pan, add a drizzle of olive oil and bring to a medium heat. Add the rapini and 2 tsp lemon juice and cook until just wilted. Transfer rapini to a dish and set aside.
Give the pan a quick wipe with a paper towel to clean out any remaining bits of prosciutto and rapini and add about 3 tbsp EVOO. Add the smashed garlic and cook on medium-low until they are just starting to turn brown. Turn off the stove, cover, and set aside letting the garlic infuse the oil while you’re creating the rest of the dish.
In a large pot, add water and roughly 2 tablespoons of salt. The water should taste distinctly salty. An old Italian kitchen tip is that the pasta water needs to be as salty as the Mediterranean.
Bring to boil and add pasta. Cook until just barely al dente.
Reserve two cups of the pasta water then drain the remaining pasta.
Remove and discard the garlic from the reserved oil in the pan and turn the oil on medium-high heat. Add the pasta water and let it come to a full boil so it can emulsify with the oil. This is the start of your sauce base. Once emulsified (about 1 minute) turned the heat down to medium.
Sprinkle and slowly mix about 4 oz of the Parmigiano-Reggiano into the sauce base until melted. If your cheese is finely grated, this will melt very quickly and evenly under the heat of the sauce. You want to stir or whisk quickly enough to incorporate and not get clumps.
Once the sauce is a tad creamy from the cheese, add the pasta to the pan and cook in the sauce for 2-3 minutes.
Divide the pasta between 4 plates, sprinkle with additional Parmigiano-Reggiano to taste, and top with rapini and 2 slices each of the crispy Prosciutto di Parma. Serve with garlic toast and an old vine zinfandel.