Sunday, June 20, 2010

Outer Banks Escape (Herbed Cheese and Prosciutto Crostini)

Just one more day until summer is officially here. And summer in North Carolina equals The Beach.  Maybe it’s because it takes a bit of effort and involves a two to three hour drive and usually an overnight stay, but going to the beach is an iconic Carolina summer experience. In fact, lately it seems that everyone I come in contact with has just returned from the beach or is headed there in the next few days.

Not to be left out, Steve and I made our first weekend pilgrimage to the sandy shores of our new state last weekend.  I had just come off of a big project and needed a break. So we broke out Google Maps and started checking things out.  A tip from my brother charted our course – The Outer Banks. Even it’s name sounds remote and nostalgic. We couldn't wait to get on the road.

The Outer Banks is actually a thin strip of tiny islands off the North Carolina Coast, with the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and Alberlarle Sound and Pamlico Sound to the west.  It’s where the Wright Brothers made their historic first flight at Kitty Hawk and where the Pirate Blackbeard fought his last battle. Today, you can still find pristine beaches of fine white sand and sea grass, quaint light houses, lovely beach houses and inns, and excellent restaurants. The islands are accessible by bridge or ferry, which turns a quick getaway into more of an adventure.

One of the highlights of the trip was a fantastic dinner at The Inn on Pamlico Sound, a beautiful property with an excellent restaurant that over looks -- you got it -- the Pamlico Sound.  

One of the highlights of our meal was a great herbed cheese and prosciutto crostini appetizer. Crostini means “little toasts” in Italian. They can be topped with just about anything, but this version’s light and fresh flavors of herbs and lemon were a perfect complement to a crisp sauvignon blanc and a warm summer night. 

As often happens when we are in a restaurant, I vowed to duplicate the dish when we got home. Yesterday I put together the recipe below and took it to a neighborhood get-together last night. I must say, I think I nailed it.  I hope you give it a try.

Herbed Cheese and Prosciutto Crostini
Serves 6

  • 1 package Snofrisk (This is a mild spreadable cheese that is 80% cows milk and 20% goat milk. Look for this in the specialty cheese section of your grocer.  Whole Foods carries it.)
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 Tbs finely minced chives
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 5 grinds black pepper
  • 12 thin slices of ciabatta bread
  • 12 thin slices of parma prosciutto (Get the real deal if you can.  It’s pricy, but you only need 12 slices.  Have the butcher or deli person slice it ultra thin)
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 handfuls of arugula

Herbed Cheese:
  • Mix the cheese, thyme, chives, lemon zest and pepper in a small bowl
  • Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors meld.  You can make this the day before.

Crostini Toasts:
  • On a grill pan or outside grill, toast the bread slices

Balsamic syrup:
  • In a small saucepan, heat the balsamic vinegar and sugar over very low heat until it has reduced by half and creates a thick syrup.  You won’t end up with much, but you only need a very small amount
  • Set aside

To assemble
  • Spread a thin layer of the cheese mixture on each piece of toast
  • Top with a piece of the prosciutto
  • Heap the arugula onto a serving platter
  • Place the crostinis on top of the arugula
  • Using a teaspoon and lightly drizzle the balsamic vinegar syrup over the toasts and arugula

To eat, you can place a piece or two of arugula atop the crostini.