August 12, 2009
After the unification of Italy, Pellegrino Artusi established the basis for an Italian national cuisine when he became the first cookbook author writing a single book with recipes from every Italian region. Artusi was also a food critic. Around the end of the 19th century, Artusi described a delightful dish he had had in a trattoria in Rome. This dish included veal, prosciutto and sage. And it was such a delectable dish that it just jumped into your mouth: saltimbocca alla romana (which is Italian for jump-in-mouth, Roman style).
8 veal cutlets
4 oz prosciutto crudo
8 fresh sage leaves
3 Tbsp butter
1 cup white wine
1 big handful flour
Using a meat pounder, pound your cutlets until they get really thin. While you pound the meat sprinkle it with some salt and pepper. Set the flour in a shallow bowl and then coat the veal cutlets with flour. Atop each cutlet lay a piece of prosciutto crudo and then a sage leaf. Fix the prosciutto and sage leaf into the meat by using a toothpick. Heat the butter in a large skillet. When the butter is melted add the veal, prosciutto side up. Sauté the veal until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes. Carefully turn the veal and cook for a minute, taking care not to burn the prosciutto or the leaves. Take the veal out of the skillet and place it in a serving plate, prosciutto side up. Pour the wine into the skillet, give a quick stir and let the alcohol evaporate for a minute. Pour the thin wine sauce on top of the veal, serve and let the veal cutlets jump in your mouth (remove the toothpicks first)!
Chicken saltimbocca? Nice idea, but when in Rome do as the Romans do (which means using veal for your saltimbocca)!
If you have read my previous posts on Roman cuisine you already know that Romans like recipes that are simple, easy and delicious. Saltimbocca alla romana meets all these criteria. But Roman cuisine is also a poor one, so the use of butter (an ingredient almost inexistent in southern Italy) puzzled me. Last time I was in Rome I asked my butcher (a lovely genuine Roman lady) and she confirmed to me the use of butter. So, even though olive oil would be a more Roman ingredient, follow this recipe and use butter.
Butter is not the only odd ingredient in this recipe. Veal cutlet is a pretty nice cut of meat and certainly not among the cheapest. It is true that Roman cuisine is a cucina povera, but it’s also true that in Rome you also find Vatican City. And as Romans say “Chi se vo' impara' a magna', da li preti bisogna che va” (if you want to learn how to eat, you have to go to see the priests). In other words, for centuries while common people struggled to prepare something to eat, the Pope enjoyed a splendorous cuisine where meat and dairy products were served frequently.