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...

Gnocchi alla Romana

Gnocchi alla Romana

Somewhere between Polenta and Grits, this wintery preparation from central Italy is easy to prepare and versatile. It can be served as a Primo Piatto, just like a pasta course, as is or on top of some cooked greens like spinach. Or it can serve as crispy and rich side dish to a braise, roasted or sautéed meat.

They are made with coarse ground semolina (durum wheat) or even cream of wheat. Simply add about 1cup of semolina to 4 or 5 cups of hot milk stirring to avoid lumps. Cook about 15 minutes, season with salt, pepper, nutmeg and grated Parmigiano and pour the thick mixture on a greased sheet tray or greased surface. Use a greased spatula or plastic wrap and a rolling pin to level at about 1/2 inch thickness and allow to cool.

Once room temperature the mixture becomes firm and can be cut in shape, normally round discs about 2 inches in diameter.Arrange discs in a buttered oven proof dish and season the top with more grated Parmigiano and additional butter. At this point you may refrigerate or even freeze for later use if desired.To complete bake at 425F for about 20-30 minutes or until the gnocchi will achieve a golden crispy crust.

White Truffle$

White Truffles
White Truffle
Beef Tartare with Truffle
Sunny Side Up Eggs with Truffle
Tajarin al Tartufo

Expensive I know. Too expensive!

But if you get an opportunity to put your hands on one of these precious nuggets, here are few possible ways to enjoy it.

But first, if you must hold it a day or two before you eat it, put it in a glass jar with risotto rice (Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano…) or with some fresh eggs. The rice or the eggs will absorb the fantastic aroma and when you cook them, after having consumed the truffle, it will feel like eating truffle again.

White truffle, contrary to black truffle, is not supposed to be cooked with a dish but is thinly shaved, raw on top of it. Above are some of my favorite ways to enjoy it:

• Shaved over raw beef seasoned with extra virgin, sea salt and a raw egg yolk

• Shaved over fried or scrambled eggs

• Shaved over homemade tagliolini tossed in butter and Parmigiano

Let's Talk Carbonara

Bucatini alla Carbonara
Bucatini alla Carbonara
Bucatini alla Carbonara

A humble yet luscious pasta dish typical from central Italy. Composed of a few simple elements, it requires quality ingredients and skillful care to become a true delicacy.

No doubt it is packed with calories, fat an cholesterol. Get over it. Nobody is perfect. It is just fine if you enjoy it occasionally and in moderation as one very tasty and satisfying course on a multi-course meal, in which case you can plan to serve 6 or even more small portions out of one pound of pasta.

It consists of strips of Pancetta or Guanciale (cured pork jowl) rendered in a saute' pan until golden and crispy into which you toss some hot pasta al dente, immediately after draining it from its cooking water and quickly bond with a mixture of egg yolks, freshly ground peppercorns, grated Pecorino and Parmigiano cheese. Yolks should coagulate quickly but gently, without scrambling and just enough to create a rich creamy sauce that combined with the flavor and texture of the Guanciale, makes this pasta hard to resist.

Bucatini or Perciatelli are in general the pastas of choice, but Spaghetti, Penne or even other shapes can also produce interesting results.

The keys are a few:

- Like all simple preparations, using top quality ingredients makes a difference. A great fat artisanal Pancetta or Guanciale, freshly picked farm eggs, freshly ground black pepper and good and freshly ground Parmigiano and Pecorino (Romano works well but some other aged Pecorinos from Tuscany, Umbria or Lazio region can be even better) will yield outstanding results.

- It must be prepared at the last minute and pay close attention in cooking the egg yolks very carefully while continuously tossing the pasta in the pan, to ensure that they will bond and achieve creaminess without scrambling - a bit like in a Hollandaise. If the pan is hot and the pasta just drained, no additional heat should be necessary to cook the yolks. But if for some reason you have lost some of the heat, then be extremely careful to finish the dish over a gentle flame and stir it constantly.

Some like to use whole eggs and some like to add some heavy cream, although my favorite is prepared with egg yolks only.

Hopefully, the visual steps above can help you achieve a great result. Buon appetito!