For most people, Italian food is automatically associated with two types of dishes: pasta and pizza. Some Italian restaurants specialize in one and some the other, but they all have one OR the other. This is a shame because as we all know, the Italians have contributed much much more to the world of food than these two (admittedly delicious) dishes. In particular, one area in which Italian cuisine is supreme, is the veal scaloppine.
My Italian food bible (Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking) devotes several pages to how to properly prepare a scaloppine, because apparently you can't get them done right by your local butcher, let alone the supermarket. I'm a lot less fussy than Marcella; I use the cuts I can get from the local supermarket. They work pretty well. (For the record, Marcella recommends getting a hunk of shoulder cut and slicing it thinly against the grain and using a round wooden tool to squish it to the right thickness.)
Unfortunately, after taking a single photo while preparing these veal rolls I got wrapped up in baby feeding, socializing with dinner guests...and forgot to photograph the final product. It's a shame because this is a great main dish for dinner guests in that it looks elegant and complicated and is actually easy to assemble. I also love this recipe because it allows me to sneak steamed spinach into a meal, which I love and the Critic thinks he hates. When it's hidden in a nice piece of meat, though, even he agrees that it's tasty!
Veal Scaloppine with Spinach and Mushrooms
4 thin slices of veal
2 large bags of spinach (about 1kg fresh)
12 medium mushrooms
a little butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1/4 cup sherry
1/4 cup crême fraîche
salt and pepper to taste
Wash and pick through the spinach, removing any woody ends to the leaves. Place them in a large frying pan, cover and put over a low heat. The water clinging to the leaves should be more than enough to steam the spinach. Remove from the heat after 5-8 minutes, when the spinach is limp but not soggy.
Clean and slice the mushrooms and sauté them with a knob of butter. If you have any garlic on hand, you might want to squash one and throw it in the mix for more flavour, removing it before you assemble the veal rolls. I didn't happen to have any garlic in the kitchen and it worked fine without it!
In the meantime, as the mushrooms and spinach are cooking, use a wooden mallet to pound the veal slices as thin as you can. This will not only tenderize them but ensure that they cook quickly.
Now you are ready to assemble the rolls. Lay out the veal slices and season each of them with the Lawry's salt. If you only have normal salt that works too, but I find that Lawry's works particularly well with veal. Drain the spinach if necessary and cook the mushrooms if possible until all the sauce is absorbed by the 'shrooms. Spread 1/4 of the spinach on the first slice, stopping a centimeter or so from the edges lengthwise and a couple centimeters from each of the ends. Grate a little nutmeg over the spinach and spread one quarter of the mushrooms on top. Click here for the one photo I took while assembling the rolls.
Put a knob of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan and heat until they begin to froth. Finish assembling each of the slices and roll them carefully. If necessary, you can pin them with a toothpick. (I found that two of mine needed pinning and two did not: the thinner you pound the slices the less likely you are to need toothpicks.) Place them in the frying pan and cook quickly until browned, turn over and brown the other side. It should only take ten or fifteen minutes. While they are cooking, set your oven to warm.
Once the rolls are cooked through, place them in a warm oven (preferably with the plates you'll use to serve - let's be classy here!). Turn up the heat in the frying pan you've used to cook them and add the sherry. As it bubbles away, use a spatula to work up any of the bits that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. I found that some big blobby bits of fat had come off the veal and used a spoon to remove them. Once the sauce is dark and smells delicious, add the crême fraîche. (You could substitute cream and I'm sure it would be delicious - just lower the heat a bit so that it doesn't separate. For some reason crême fraîche is easier to use in this regard.) Cook until the cream has thickened slightly and taste for salt and pepper. Drizzle over each of the rolls and serve with a little pasta on the side, so that your guests have something to absorb any of the superfluous sauce. (I served with rotini tossed with butter, salt and parmesan.)
Although I don't have a photo to prove it, I can assure you that it looked lovely and tasted even better. You can use this method with all kinds of fillings: Parma ham, or mozzarella, or any combination of vegetables. I like it best with spinach and mushrooms, though. They both taste so delicious with nutmeg and cream and the savoury meat pulls it all together. Of course there is pasta involved in this dish, but it's more of a supporting role than a starring one. The star is the slice of veal with its lovely friends, spinach and mushroom. Yum!