Saltimbocca

Saltimbocca alla Romana

Warning: can be addictive.

Fast to prepare (and also to eat...) this is one of those dishes in which the result by far exceeds the effort. Saltimbocca may follow, or accompany very well, the Gnocchi alla Romana described in my previous post and are typical of the same area in Italy. They are also delicious on the side of cooked spinach and potato purée or fried artichokes and a delicate green salad like in the image above.

They are normally composed of tender slices of veal, each layered with a sage leaf and topped with a thin slice of Prosciutto. A tooth pick can be used to hold it all together. Chicken or pork can be used too with good results, but veal is the traditional choice and in my opinion the best option.

When ready to cook, place them on the table prosciutto side down and season the meat with salt and pepper, then dip the prosciutto side in flour, dust the excess off and quickly cook it in a very hot sauté pan with a touch of olive oil, prosciutto side down. Heat should be medium/high to allow the prosciutto to turn golden and crisp by the time the meat is just done, which takes only a couple of minutes. Depending on how thick the veal is by the time the prosciutto side is ready, the meat should be almost cooked through on the top, making it a preparation where about 90% of the cooking is done on the same side. At that point, all you have to do is move the pan off the heat, quickly flip the saltimbocca just to let the meat side touch the hot pan, then plate them immediately prosciutto side up. The key is to have a crispy prosciutto top but tender juicy veal underneath which is not overcooked.

As the saltimbocca rest on the warm plate, you should make the sauce by discarding the cooking fat, deglazing the pan with a generous amount of white wine and replacing it over the high heat to reduce. A touch of broth can be added too if desired. The liquid, while quickly reducing in the pan, will also mix with the flavorful drippings from the saltimbocca and slightly thicken, thanks to residual flour. Add a few pieces of butter and swirl the pan over the heat to create an emulsion. Move off the heat, taste and adjust but generally the saltiness of the prosciutto combined with the acidity of the wine and the sweetness of the butter don't require additional salt. If too acidic add more butter. Be careful as the sauce is ready to serve just a few moments before is ready to "break" so be careful not to over-reduce it and move the pan off the heat towards the end. If you do over-reduce it - don't panic. Just add some hot water and start reducing over high heat again. The liquid will re-emulsify. For this sauce to be good it should not yield much more than a generous table spoon for each portion. I like to think of it as a rustic and quick version of a Beurre Blanc.

Well I hope this wasn't too confusing. In reality it all happens in two or three minutes and all these little details to pay attention to really make the difference between a so-so dish and a great one.

OK, now I made myself hungry...