I confess to feeling somewhat anxious about this recipe. Not because it doesn’t taste good (it does) but because I am aware that Americans, and particularly southerners, have very strong feelings about their biscuits, and I have quite a few friends from the South who seem to be mainly employed in the food business. I know from experience that they will not hold back when it comes to their heritage and nor should they.
To add to my apprehension is the fact that I have taken the good old southern biscuit and married it with two Italian institutions: San Daniele prosciutto and mostarda and to make things worse, my mostarda recipe would not be considered to be authentic. Having seen the online kerfuffle when Italians understandably object to recipes which do not follow their passionately- argued conventions, I am not going to pretend that this mostarda is the Ur version.
So why this culinary collision?
Go to the American South and you will find served in homes and restaurants across this most diverse of regions, biscuits stuffed with country ham or bacon alongside other delicious things. Biscuits are a perfect, comforting foil to whatever is placed inside them. Eaten warm, fresh from the oven, they are more like scones than the flat, sweet confections we call biscuits which Americans know as cookies.
Instead of using the toothsome air-dried country ham I once ate in the States which was altogether more robust in form and flavour, I’ve stuffed these biscuits with the delicate San Daniele prosciutto from the north-east of Italy, produced close to the Austrian and Slovenian border where cool mountain air and salty breezes from the Adriatic meld to produce the perfect air-drying micro-climate. Both the Italians and the Southerners really know their pigs; they are culinary siblings under the skin.
My last justification for this Italian-Southern hybrid apart from its sheer deliciousness? Peaches. Go to Italy and you will find prosciutto served alongside them. Wing your away across the Atlantic to the South and peaches abound there too. This luscious fruit is the perfect culinary bridge.
TO MAKE THE BISCUITS
250g plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbs cold unsalted butter placed in freezer until hard
2 tablespoons vegetable fat (I use Trex)
230ml ice-cold buttermilk
Melted butter for glazing
Preheat your oven to 220 C / Gas 7 and line a tin with baking parchment. Using a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients together then remove butter from the freezer and grate it straight into the flour. Add the vegetable shortening then rub both into the flour, working swiftly to avoid melting the butter. Don’t over-rub though.
Create a well in the centre and pour in the chilled buttermilk; lightly mix until you have a shaggy and sticky dough.
Dust your hands and the work surface with flour then turn the dough out.
Lightly knead and fold the dough three times then gently press it out to a thickness of 2cm. I don’t use a rolling pin as I think it develops the gluten too much which toughens the biscuits.
Dust a metal biscuit cutter with flour. (I used a 3cm one here which gave me 12 biscuits but you may prefer to use a larger cutter in which case they’ll take a few moments longer to bake.) When you cut the biscuits out it is vital to avoid twisting the cutter because doing so will seal the edges and prevent a decent rise. Decisively press down with the cutter the lift straight up; the rounds should be easy to remove from the surrounding dough.
Place the rounds on the baking tray. (If you let their edges touch they will rise higher.)
Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes until risen and golden brown then remove from oven and brush with melted butter. They are at their best eaten warm.
Note: It is possible to make these with a food processor. When I do it I simply add all the ingredients and pulse.
EASY PEACH AND NECATARINE MOSTARDA
3 just-ripe peaches, skinned, pitted and cut into chunks of 1.5 cm approx
3 just-ripe nectarines, skinned, pitted and cut into chunks of 1.5cm approx
150ml apple vinegar (Use a good cider vinegar if you cannot find apple,)
1 Pasilla chili (optional)
2cm sprig of rosemary
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
For easy skinning, pop the fruits into just-boiled water and leave for 30 seconds before draining; the skins should peel off easily. Place a heavy-based pan over a low heat and toast the mustard and coriander seeds, shaking the pan to prevent them from catching. Pour in the fruits, the apple vinegar, rosemary, chili and salt and bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until the fruit begins to break down then remove the peaches and nectarines from the liquid with a slotted spoon and place to one side. Fish out and discard the rosemary sprig and chili then reduce the liquid down to a thick syrup over a medium-high heat, stirring to prevent it from catching. Place the fruit back into the syrup, turn off the heat then leave to infuse and cool.
Leftover mostarda can be stored in the fridge where it will keep, covered for a couple of weeks.
San Daniele prosciutto (one slice per biscuit but if you are feeling flush, then two) or substitute with gammon, bacon or anything porky.
Simply break or slice the biscuit, slather it in butter and stuff with first the ham, and then a spoonful of the fruit mostarda.