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Saltimbocca alla Romana

"it's slightly salty, slightly woodsy, and entirely sumptuous." Saveur

This post is a sort of lucky dip. Not the kind where I choose a book, but the kind where I open my freezer in the hope of inspiration for dinner tonight, and take out a pack of 'sizzle steak', which is probably a tough bit of beef, cut thin and bashed a bit. I think it was a super buy so in the days when I wandered the supermarket aisles looking for such things, on a whim I thought I would buy it and put it in the freezer for a rainy day. Well today is the rainy day. Not that it's raining, though it looks as if it might.

Of course there are heaps of things that you could do with it, but I thought I might try saltimbocca. I'm not sure I ever have - maybe once in the dim and distant past. I also have some proscuitto sitting in my fridge and begging to be used as it won't be used for a family lunch any time soon. Thank you to the lovely Sarah who always brings sumptuous expensive goodies when she visits. And I have sage growing in the garden too. No Marsala though, but white wine will do and we have plenty of that.

So this is a Roman dish, although Jamie seemed to think it originated in Brescia. Saltimbocca, as you no doubt know means 'jump in the mouth'. Traditionally it is made with veal. These days, anything goes. Elizabeth David conceded that you could use beef, but rather sniffingly said:

"Thin slices of beef can be used instead of veal, but they will of course, take a good deal longer to cook."

I'm not sure she's right there. Depends on the quality of the meat I would think - and I know mine won't be top notch. But still I don't think it will take that long. Not if I bash it a bit.

And here is an interesting fact:

"This is the only main course in Italian cuisine whose recipe has been officially approved and laid down. This is the recipe that the panel of cooks agreed upon in Venice in 1962." Giorgio Locatelli - The Guardian

And here is that 'official' version.

100g prosciutto slices, halved, 500g veal escalopes, 8-10 fresh sage leaves, 50g butter, 100ml dry white wine

Place a half-slice of prosciutto on each escalope, put a sage leaf on top and fasten with a cocktail stick. Melt the butter in a frying pan and cook the veal over a high heat on both sides until golden brown. Pour in the wine, add salt and cook until it has evaporated, then remove the cocktail sticks and serve.

This may well explain why when you start looking at recipes for 'authentic' Saltimbocca alla Romana you will not actually find much variation. Elizabeth David and Robert Carrier's recipes, for example, are almost identical, word for word. Nevertheless it seems to me that there are a few variations. There is the rolled version - meat wrapped around ham and sage leaf and secured with a toothpick,

or the ham wrapped around the meat with the sage outside too - as in the picture at the top of the page. And to be honest I thought that this was what saltimbocca was. The third variation is that the meat is just flattened and the ham and sage secured on top. Jamie Oliver and delicious seem to be proponents of this method and actually most of the images you will find on Google will be of this type. It also seems to be the 'official' version. Not quite as tempting looking - well for me anyway.

Guy Grossi slightly changes this by folding the meat over the ham and sage rather than rolling it. He also inauthentically adds some parsley and garlic. It looks pretty good though and I bet it tastes wonderful too. He serves his with gnocchi romana - the semolina ones I talked about a while ago.

And I suppose the other variation in the standard versions is whether you cook the meat in the wine for a bit, or whether it is simply used to deglaze the pan to create a kind of sauce, although the 'official' version seems to say that you should boil the sauce away, almost completely. I think this would be a bit dry.

Then, because we now live in a world of experimentation and change, there are a whole world of variations using different meats and different fillings, but you'd have to argue that once you get into different stuffings you no longer have saltimbocca. Not so sure about the meats. After all, not many people here eat veal these days. Well it doesn't bear thinking about does it? Meat in general doesn't either really. Nigel Slater had one of these variations - Turkey escalope with prosciutto and lemon. It didn't stray that far in terms of the stuffing and the method - just in the meat. And, apologies, I could find no picture of it. Chicken breast seems to be a popular alternative. Or pork. Well sage is the traditional partner for pork is it not?

Then there are the recipes which can only be loosely described as saltimbocca even though that's what they are called - and the best example I could find of this was Donna Hay's Saltimbocca, which uses veal chops and roasts them. It looks elegant and does use the fundamental prosciutto, veal and sage, but there, perhaps the comparison ends. It's a bit more complicated to make as well.

Interesting though and reflective of the times in which we live in which we take something tried and true and mess with it a bit to see if it can be improved upon. Some things are better not messed with too much - Irish stew and Lancashire hotpot for example, but maybe this one is worthy of experimentation. I had thought my sizzle steaks were lamb and therefore I was going to substitute the sage with mint and garlic, but I wouldn't have done much else. I think I might go with the Guy Grossi version. It's sort of a halfway house. I could do the gnocchi too, but actually I think I'll just stick to boiled potatoes dressed with butter and parsley - and some beans. Looking forward to it already.


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