There are some things English which can easily get overlooked because we are often enamoured by the fine produce of our European cousins. One such is ham. I would guess that 90% of the ham sold in this country is a tasteless, textureless waste of our time and money, but picking between the rubbish we also produce some of the finest hams around, and you can even find them in your supermarket if you avoid anything prepackaged.
Like many things we buy, the trick is rather than buy a whole pile of cheap ham for a few pounds, buy less of the really nice stuff for the same price – the smaller quantity will be good for your waistband and health, and the better quality will be good for your self-esteem.
I sometimes look for the end cuts – the bits that are a little bit fattier and often uneven thickness. Perfect for this dish.
Put on a large pan of water for the pasta – salted and with a tbs of olive oil.
In a large frying pan, put 2 tbs olive oil and fry the finely chopped onion and garlic gently till soft.
Chop up the ham removing any excess fat and add to the onion. Fry for a few minutes till just turning colour – don’t fry too heavily, this is not bacon.
Add the chopped parsley and stir in well.
Add the mascarpone and stir till it thins then add the cheese.
Salt and pepper to taste – loads of black pepper but be careful with the salt as both the cheese and the ham will have added saltiness.
If it is getting too thick, add a little milk – the pasta when added will soak up the sauce so you don't want it too thick too early!
Put the pasta on to cook – fresh pasta only takes a minutes or two for tagliatelle, so don't forget it. Soggy pasta will not work here so make sure it has a little bite.
Drain the pasta and stir into the sauce. Again, check that it is not drying out.
Put the pasta into small oven dishes and sprinkle with breadcrumbs – I made mine out of some stale baguette – perfect!
Drizzle with a little oil and bake or put under a grill to go golden.
This really is a quick dish and benefits from being made quickly. The fresher it is, the lighter it will become. If you slow it down everything will overcook and it will lose that lightness that the Italians value so much. It is also a rich dish, so small portions with lots of tomato salad dressed with oil, salt, lemon and chopped spring onions for a fresh sharp contrast to the sweet cheesy pasta.