What’s for Supper – Saltimbocca, a super simple gourmet supper

Saltimbocca remains one of my all time favourites, and is a perfect example of what makes Italian food so brilliant.

Respect for local produce, an instinctive understanding of what goes together, few ingredients, simple cooking methods and utter bliss on the plate. My life long love affair with Italy started when I visited on an Inter-rail trip as an 18-year old History of Art student. It was love at first sight. How could it not be? European trains were not the clean marvels of speed that they are today. Sleeping on dirty floors and risking cystitis rather than braving revolting toilets was the norm. So much greater the contrast when one tumbled out of the stations of Florence, Pisa and Venice to city scapes of such aching beauty and food so exquisite that it made me cry!

I had such high expectations of Venice that I was prepared for it to disappoint. It didn’t. We arrived very early in the morning, after another night spent on a dirty train floor, having crossed the long Ponte della Libertà connecting Venice to the mainland, and emerging, blinking through the doors of Venezia Santa Lucia railway station straight onto the Canal Grande. I still get goose bumps when I think about that moment. The sun on the water, astounding Palazzi, the sun on my face and being carried by a perky vaporetto on a street made of water; I knew that I had fallen head over heels in love and that it would last for life.

I am a big fan of the Italian Renaissance architect Palladio, whose symmetrical country villas for rich land owners scatter the landscape between Venice and Vicenza. He also designed three beautiful churches in Venice, including the church of San Giorgio Maggiore on the island of the same name located just across the lagoon from the Piazzetta San Marco. Its classical temple façade is a brilliant white; its interior is also a brilliant white, bathed in natural light. The design is what we would probably refer to as “resolved”, that is to say perfect. I find it oddly relatable to modern Scandinavian design, both a thrill and a rest for the eye. The bell-tower offers unrivalled views back over Venice and ascending it would be my top tip to anyone planning a trip to Venice when the lock down is lifted!

Anyway, back to the food!

Saltimbocca alla Romana may in fact not have originated in Rome, but in the north. Be that as it may, it is a fiendisly clever dish of just 3 main components cooked in a couple of minutes and finished off with such effortless bravura as to seem almost arrogant – a splash of Marsala. Tender escalopes, earthy sage, salty Prosciutto and sweet wine. Genius. Traditionally made with veal, I don’t favour cooking veal. Even if the cruel days of crating calves to stop them from moving, in order for their muscle fibre to remain pale and tender are gone, there are serious animal welfare issues with veal. Male calves born into dairy herds are either killed at birth or shipped on long journeys to veal farms on the continent where they are kept in cruel conditions.

So I tend to use organic, free range fillet of pork, ie pork loin, or chicken when I make this dish. If you use chicken, cut through a breast fillet horizontally to crate two thin fillets. It makes a chicken fillet go twice as far! I have used pork fillet here, as I had bought one and put it in my freezer just before the lock down. I have used half a 650g fillet for this meal, and I will use the other half either in a Chinese style stir fry, or simply by pan frying medallions in butter and serving with sliced onion cooked down very very slowly to an unctuous, sweet caramel brown. This I would have to plan for a cold, rainy day, as it deserves a buttery mash to partner it on the plate.

Prepare you chicken fillets or, in my case, medallions of organic pork loin.

how to flatten out your meat to make thin escalopes – or scaloppine. All you need is some cling film and a sturdy saucepan. And possibly some ear plugs.

Add a slice of Prosciutto and a large sage leaf to each escalope.  Season the other side with freshly ground pepper and just a little salt – the ham is salty.

Dust with plain flour – this will make the wine, when added, go nicely syrupy.

Heat a knob of butter and a lug of sunflower oil in a pan until the colour is nut brown.

Add the scaloppione, prosciutto side down. Fry over a fairly high heat for 60 seconds. Flip over.

Click to see what happens when I add the Marsala; it will spit as it goes in, then carry on letting the juices and wine reduce to a lovely syrupy consistency  for about 1 minute. That’s it; cooking done in 2 minutes.

I would serve this with spinach Tagliatelle cooked al dente. The dark green of the pasta looks stunning with the scarlet and green of the scaloppine, whereas white pasta doesn’t. Or, serve with lemon & rosemary roasted waxy potatoes, and some wilted spinach. Delizioso!

What’s for supper tomorrow

Another mouth watering yet super simple recipe from our teaching chef Jackie Hobbs, using a humble ingredient: cucumber for a chilled cucumber soup. Perfect for Friday supper, alone or as a starter, at the end of a warm day.