Italians have a wonderful reputation for flair and improvisation. Think Italian fashion houses, Maserati cars, Riva runabouts and a country and culture which thrives despite its inexplicable politics.
But mess with a traditional Italian recipe and you’ll be consigned to Napoleon’s cell on Elba.
I’ll cook a traditional saltimbocca with the best of them but John decided one day to risk exile to Elba and improve upon perfection. Hence Veal Saltimbocca Poseidon.
But before we look at John’s variation, let’s review the traditional Veal Saltimbocca.
You take a thinly sliced, pounded veal cutlet, a scallopino (scallopini in the plural and who can eat just one?). Put a slice of prosciutto, preferably cut a little more thickly than usual, on the cutlet, plus a sage leaf. Use a toothpick to hold it all together and dust both sides lightly with flour.
In a large skillet, heat some butter, lay the scallopini in the pan and cook them for no more than a minute a side. Take them out of the oil and turn the heat up. Add some white wine and scrape up the bits and pieces in the pan. Pour this tasty concoction over the scallopini and you have a delicious and traditional saltimbocca.
Warning: Veal Saltimbocca calls for … veal … and we’ve all seen the pictures and read the articles which persuade many cooks and eaters to take veal off the menu. We abhor all factory and battery farming. If you disrespect your food animals and treat them cruelly, it’s a small step to behaving with equal indifference to humans.
We only use humanely raised veal, calves that are raised naturally, exactly as they would live in nature. However, if you can’t get with the thought of humanely raised veal, you can make his dish with chicken, pork or turkey, but be sure the scallopini are pounded to that definitive eighth of an inch in thickness.
Make the Tomato Sauce first. You’ll need:
2 tablespoons olive oil – Extra Virgin, as usual
1 chopped garlic clove (A tiny amount. Overdo the garlic and you’ll kill this dish deader than Vercingretorix.)
1 16 oz can San Marzano tomatoes (Use nothing but San Marzano and make sure they’re the real San Marzano and not some kind of imposter masquerading under that name. Make sure, too, that they’re whole. Only the best San Marzanos make it into the can whole. Their bruised, battered or otherwise inferior cousins get chopped and diced before they’re canned.)
3 basil leaves
Sauté the chopped garlic in the olive oil but do not let it turn even the palest brown. Add the tomatoes. Crush them in the pan – bad for their morale but great for the taste. Add salt and some chopped basil. Simmer then set aside.
Now for the Veal Saltimbocca Poseidon. You’ll need:
8 pieces scaloppini, thinly sliced, approx 3”x3” (For this dish, the scaloppini can be no more than an eighth of an inch thick. If you buy a thicker veal cutlet, you’ll need to pound it to the correct thickness, which is vital because you’re only going to cook it for twenty seconds each side, in butter – and overcooked veal tends to be tough.)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 slices Prosciutto (Italian, per favore, no American or other foreign imposters.)
8 thin slices cheese (I love to use a medium aged Asiago because our tastes run a little salty, perhaps the result of the ocean air! But this dish also uses Prosciutto, which adds to its saltiness and you may therefore prefer a milder cheese. A Fontina, maybe. If you’re desperate and there’s neither Asiago or Fontina in the house, or within a three hour drive, you can get by with many other similar cheeses – an Ementhal, works well – but do not tell Silvio.)
8 small basil leaves
Prepare a casserole dish with a light layer of the tomato sauce in the bottom. Heat the butter and a little olive oil – say, two tablespoons of butter and one of olive oil – in a large skillet. Fry the scaloppini – twenty seconds a side – and lay them side by side in the casserole. Even twenty seconds is pushing it for a thin cutlet, so be careful and conservative.
Top each scaloppino with a piece of prosciutto and a piece of the orgasmic Asiago. Add another layer of the tomato sauce on top of the veal. Again, do not over-sauce! Put the casserole dish into a 350 degree oven until the cheese melts.
Before you serve, garnish the dish with a little fresh basil.
Saltimbocca, by the way, means ‘jumps in your mouth’ – and if it doesn’t, then you’ve sadly disappointed both the recipe and your guests.