Let me start by putting your minds at ease. I’m not Cruella de Vil and I didn’t slaughter a cute little puppy to make this post. The Dalmatian in the title is the pršut (prosciutto) my brother brought back from a recent trip to Dalmatia, a region on the Adriatic that more or less corresponds to present-day Croatia.
Apparently dried and cured meats are a specialty of the region, and pršut is not commercially exported, so it’s a treat only locals and visitors to the area usually get to experience. I was lucky that my brother had business in Split and routed his flight through London. And that, when choosing a souvenir for his food writer sister, he chose well. A few photos he took are included at the bottom of this post.
So, knowing my great fortune in having a pack of this delicacy at my disposal, I was saddled with the responsibility of doing it justice. How best to serve this ham so that its taste and texture would be showcased and not lost amongst myriad other ingredients? My brother said they ate theirs as is, which is probably the best way to experience it initially. We did that too, with a bit of it, but I saved some for asparagus season, because I had a plan.
Tartines are open-faced sandwiches popular in France. As a student in Paris, I often treated myself to a relatively inexpensive and healthy lunch at Dame Tartine, near the Centre Pompidou. So, when trying to decide on a vessel for the pršut, and a way to include seasonal English asparagus, tartines sprung to mind.
As you may have noticed, this recipe was shaping up to be truly international in flavour. Dalmation ham, English asparagus, French tartine… but it still needed something. For the final touch I went local – very local. Free-range, organic eggs laid by our rent-a-hen Pookie, who lives just down the road. Perfectly poached, Pookie’s eggs provided an unctuous sauce that tied the whole sandwich together. The resulting brunch was a delight for the senses and a great way to pay tribute to some fantastic ingredients.
What You Need:
2 mini ciabatta loaves, split in half lengthways
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
12 asparagus spears, rinsed and trimmed to the same length as the ciabatta
4 slices Dalmation pršut (or another good-quality prosciutto)
Salt/pepper to taste
What You Do:
1. Lightly toast the ciabatta in a toaster or under a grill. Spread with a thin layer of mustard and set aside.
2. Grill the asparagus for about 5 minutes, turning frequently. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. When the asparagus is cool enough to handle, carefully wrap a slice of the ham around three spears, keeping the asparagus in a line (to make a flat packet). Place one of these wrapped packets on each ciabatta slice.
4. Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil and reduce heat to very low. Swirl the water to create a whirlpool and then carefully crack each of the eggs into it. Poach for about 3 minutes, until whites are set, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain briefly on a cloth or paper towel before placing one egg on top of each sandwich.
5. Season lightly and serve immediately.
Notes For Next Time:
1. This recipe was a celebration of some amazing produce I was lucky enough to get my hands on, but if you don’t have access to Dalmation ham, English asparagus or Pookie’s eggs, don’t worry. You can easily make this wherever you are with any good prosciutto, asparagus and free-range eggs.
2. You might be tempted to pour some hollandaise on top of this, and don’t think I didn’t entertain that idea too. But I wanted to keep it light, and I’m glad I did. The hollandaise would have smothered the wonderful flavours here, and it wasn’t needed. The egg really provides just the right amount of richness and, along with the mustard, prevents this from being too dry.
3. If you’re not a fan of Dijon mustard, you could use mayonnaise or even just butter instead. I must say, though, that the spicy sharpness of the Dijon was a really nice compliment to the richness of the egg and ham.
4. The ciabatta worked nicely because it’s a strong bread, so it held up well to being piled high with ingredients, and the shape was perfect for the length and width of the asparagus. However, I can imagine this being nice with a thick slice of toasted village bread or even an English muffin.
My brother’s pics from Croatia: