Being obsessed with homemade cooking can be exhausting.
Not all the time. But as the days get shorter, the nights get colder, and my workload gets bigger, coming home to two hours of dinner-making is not appetizing. Problem is, I have a really hard time eating anything but homemade. Because now that I know what real food tastes like, frozen meals and to-go food just doesn't taste the same.
The soft, buttery goodness that happily sits in the meat drawer in my refrigerator. Just knowing it’s there at the end of a long day – already delicious, already lovingly-prepared, no marinading or seasoning necessary – makes me so happy.
Prosciutto nights consist of veggies in some shape or form – a salad, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, zuchsghetti – topped with beautiful pieces of rich, marbled cured meat.
Before I go any further. Yes, I have heard about the recent World Health Organization report that puts red meat right up there with cigarettes in its cancer-causing potential.
In fact, I've read it. And guess what? I'm still psyched to eat this dish (recipe below). And confident in telling you why it’s good for your health – prosciutto and all.
For those of you who haven’t been following, the report named processed meat a definite carcinogen (based on sufficient evidence in humans that its consumption causes colorectal cancer). And red meat a probable carcinogen (based on limited evidence that its consumption causes cancer in humans).
As soon as I heard about this, I knew I had to look into it more. And I’m glad I did because – as always – there’s a lot more to it than the bold headlines that are meant to scare the shit out of you. I won’t go into it here because I don’t feel qualified to explain it to you. But if you’re interested in learning more, read the study here (you have to register for The Lancet first), and then read this article and this article, that dig into the data a little deeper.
My concern is that people will read the headlines, and suddenly be scared of all cured meat. But not all cured meat is the same (or red meat, for that matter).
Let’s just say that my bologna has a first name. And it’s not O-S-C-A-R. (Although I DO love that song).
No, I put a lot of thought into the cured meat I buy for my meat drawer. And because of that, I fell madly in love with Prosciutto di Parma at my blogging retreat a few months back.
It was actually Iron Chef America Judge, Mario Rizzotti, who personally introduced me to it. With his Italian accent, and extreme passion for authentic Italian food, he told me about the strict quality controls in Parma, Italy. And how all Prosciutto di Parma is made using only three ingredients (besides the pig): sea salt, air, and time. No preservatives or additives are used in its air curing. Nitrites and nitrates are never used.
This is very relevant in the light of this study.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) linked carcinogenic activity with nitrate and nitrite-cured meats, as well as smoked or chargrilled red meats.
Guess what? If the meat is cured with time, there IS no smoking or cooking. Prosciutto Di Parma, for example, is aged for at least 400 days, very strategically using those three magic ingredients (sea salt, air and time).
Moreover, eating certain types of prosciutto can actually be good for you. According to The Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto di Parma (and other quality meat like it) is rich in polyunsaturated fat, essential amino acids and antioxidants that actually have anticancer properties. It also contains an important source of micronutrients, minerals and vitamins, such as zinc, selenium, calcium, vitamin B6, B12 and folate, which have demonstrated effects in cancer protection.
Ahh. THIS is why I want to go to Italy. Because I truly believe this stuff MATTERS.
And you know what else matters?
WHAT you eat with that cured meat. And what you ate earlier that day. And the day before that. And the day before that.
Eating green vegetables with that meat can reduce the carcinogenicity of the red meat. And eating antioxidant-rich foods (e.g. green tea, berries, dark chocolate, turmeric) that contain protective compounds that inhibit carcinogenic formation in the stomach can also reduce carcinogenic activity. And yes, eating diner bacon, McDonalds burgers, and Oscar Meyer cold cuts on a regular basis probably will increase your chances of carcinogenic activity.
I am not a scientist, a doctor, or a nutritionist. But, when it comes to any claims on our health, I strongly believe we have to consider three things:
- The origin of our food.
- How it’s prepared.
- Our entire lifestyle and diet (not just the food in question)
I love my prosciutto and I’m going to keep loving it. But I’m also going to keep eating tons of vegetables, exercising 4-5 days a week, and staying away from cold cuts and cured meats from unfamiliar sources and with questionable operating procedures.
NOW. Let’s get back to that recipe, shall we?
The great thing about prosciutto for dinner is that all the work has been done for you! For once, you can make a pretty simple meal that has all the complexity of a homemade dish, without any of the work.
So what did I do with my Prosciutto di Parma? Hmmm. Something fall-like. Something warm. Something creamy that’s just screaming for a crispy topping. I got it!
Pumpkin Butternut Squash-Sghetti with Prosciutto
- 1 butternut squash
- 2 large carrots
- 3-4 slices of Prosciutto di Parma
- Kale or Spinach (greens have added anti-cancer properties, plus really balance out the rich creaminess in this dish)
Pumpkin Sauce Ingredients:
(I have to admit, I ended up eating most of this with a spoon instead of putting it on the dish. It is THAT good).
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1 cup of pumpkin puree
- ¼ cup of coconut milk (in the can)
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- pinch of nutmeg
- Salt and Pepper, to taste
Equipment you’ll need:
- Spiralizer (or you can just chop your b-squash up into chunks if you don’t have one)
- Chopping board
- Carrot shredder
How to make the Squash-Sghetti:
- Remove the skin from your butternut squash with a vegetable peeler. Then cut your butternut squash in half, cutting between the long part and the bulbous part (the bulbous part can NOT be spiralized because it has the seeds inside). Spiralize the remaining part of the butternut squash.
- Shred your carrots.
How to make the Pumpkin Sauce:
- Saute chopped shallot in ghee
- Toss in food processor (or I used my Nutri Bullet), along with pumpkin pureee, coconut milk and seasonings until creamy
Putting It All Together:
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees
- Put your butternut squash on a parchment-paper-covered baking pan
- Roll it around in 1/2 tablespoon of ghee
- Cook for 5-7 minutes
- While that’s cooking, toss your shredded carrots and prosciutto in a sauté pan. I do it separately from the oven because I’m paranoid and I like to make sure I can see my prosciutto and I’m not overcooking it.
- Take your butternut squash out of the oven and toss together with the carrots, the prosciutto and the kale.
- Pour your pumpkin cream sauce on top. Use sparingly, as it's really rich. Then put some aside to dip in pretty much anything and make it better.
- Take a bite. And never look back.
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