One of favourite son’s favourite dishes is Saltimbocca alla romana — which is not difficult to make but does entail a bit of step-1, step-2 and fiddle-de-dee. I wouldn’t recommend making this recipe for more than six people at any one go, for instance. For two reasons, one being that you shouldn’t dredge the veal in flour until minutes before cooking it, and the second that … it’s nice eaten ‘hot’. And if you are going to be cooking large amounts, and thus perforce in batches, there is no way you’ll be able to bring the saltimbocca to the table hot.
Ingredients: for an average serving, think two thin slices of veal per person, and 50g of parma ham (prosciutto) per person. Also required will be 1 leaf of fresh sage per slice and 1 toothpick to fasten it to the meat. Plenty of butter to cook the meat in, and 1 glass of white wine.
Here is the butter. You could use clarified butter and I have done on occasion. I have come to the conclusion that real butter is preferable … and that is because it ‘browns’. We do want the slices of meat to brown a little. Lay the slices of veal on a plate or wooden board. Place a slice of parma ham on top of each. And a sage leaf in the middle. If you look closely in the photo, there is one slice of meat without a sage leaf — and that is because favourite son doesn’t like the taste of sage. So his saltimbocca goes without.
Step 2 is all about dredging the saltimbocca in flour, on both sides, and then dusting off the excess. Repeat: do this only minutes before you are about to cook the saltimbocca. If you do it earlier, the damp from the meat will exude to the flour and make it go all sticky and ‘orrible … and basically ruin the effect you are after. End of Step 2. The salmtibocca are ready to be cooked.
Wait for the butter to melt before cooking. The heat must be just right: not too high or the meat will burn, not too low or the meat will ‘boil’. Start with the heat quite high. Cook the meat on ‘bottom’ side first, i.e. not on the side with the parma ham and sage leaf. It doesn’t have to cook for long. I would say about 2-3 minutes.
Turn the saltimbocca onto the other side — and again, cook for very little, about 2 minutes. When the first batch of saltimbocca are cooked, set them aside on a large serving plate. They will need a final touch, right at the very end. The butter gets soaked up and by the time you get to the last batch, you might find that it has practically disappeared — and you might even have to add a little more.
Here are all the slices, on the serving plate, waiting for the final touch. Step 3. The little bits of brown you see in the saucepan … are nuggets of taste, brought on but the flour and butter and meat juices. Pour a glass of wine into the saucepan, and use a wooden spoon to dislodge those nuggets of taste, so that they mix in beautifully with the wine. I used red wine this time but normally I use white — and I must say I prefer it. So, stick to white. Cook the wine until the alcohol evaporates …
And pour it over the saltimbocca. Notice I haven’t mentioned salt and pepper. That’s because the parma ham is quite salty … and so it’s best that people sprinkle salt and pepper according to taste, once it’s on the table. On the table …A close-up.
Saltimbocca alla romana is a classic — duh! — Roman dish. And we all love it, not just favourite son.