Saltimbocca alla romana


Time for the May edition of Cucina Conversations! By the time Blogger automatically posts this, I'll be on vacation in Prague and then Budapest (posts on both cities to follow) so I'll keep this short and sweet, as I've still got packing to do!  

This month our theme is *drumroll* --  "Italian dishes with body part names." Sounds weird, unappetizing, and possibly slightly creepy, I know, so let me explain. My fellow bloggers and I had been discussing Italian dishes with odd names, a conversation that got started after we read this article here, which covers everything from calzone ("pant leg") to spaghetti alla puttanesca ("whore's pasta"). As we added to our list of Italian foods with peculiar names we noticed that actually, if you think about it (and understand Italian) there are lots of foods and dishes with body parts in their names. For example: the pasta orecchiette, after all, translates to "little ears;" vermicelli pasta translates to "little worms;" occhi di bue, a round sandwich cookie with a hole in the middle translates to "bulls eye;" yet another cookie goes by the name dita degli apostoli, or rather, apostles' fingers. Many of these dishes resemble what they have been named after -- orecchiette are small and round like, you guessed it, little ears, vermicelli are long and skinny like worms -- while others have names that came about by way of funny little stories (see Daniela's recipe below). Still others have weird, body part names that came about in a foggier way -- for example, the aforementioned dita degli apostoli (a Pugliese sweet reminiscent of cannoli) translates as "apostles' fingers," for example, but I've not been able to find much online about why apostles have been included here and what their fingers have to do with it -- any info welcome! 

With no further ado, here are the recipes (and name translations) from my fellow bloggers this month:

Rosemarie over at Turin Mamma has prepared pansoti, a type of filled pasta whose name comes from the word "pancia" (tummy) and refers to the round shape of the pasta;

Daniela of La Dani Gourmet is sharing her recipe for brandacujun, a Ligurian dish made with cod and potatoes and whose name contains the word for um, testicles (cujun) in Ligurian dialect. There is a story to explain this name, and I can assure you that the dish is made with cod, potatoes, parsley, and garlic!

Lisa aka Italian Kiwi has made a cocktail called gamba di legno (gamba means "leg");

Carmen at The Heirloom Chronicles has made homemade orecchiette pasta (see explanation above);

Flavia from Flavia's Flavors is sharing a recipe for cookies called lingue di gatto (lingue means tongues, referring to the shape of these cookies);

Last but not least Marialuisa over at Marmellata di Cipolle has made a sweet named after the patron saint of the Sicilian city of Catania, minne di Sant'Agata, (which translates to "Saint Agatha's breasts") or rather, pastries filled with ricotta, candied fruit, and chocolate, topped with a cherry.

My contribution for this month is saltimbocca alla romana, a (you guessed it) Roman dish. Unlike the recipes selected by some of my fellow bloggers, this dish actually does not resemble the body part (bocca means mouth) in its title. Its name literally translates to "jump in your mouth," accurately referring to the fact that the dish is so flavorful that your taste buds do a little hop and skip when you eat it: the mild flavored veal is complemented but not overwhelmed by a slice of salty rich prosciutto, the sage leaf adds a cozy, herb-y note, and the white wine (and subsequent pan sauce) adds another layer of flavor to the whole dish. For me, it personifies the very essence of Italian cuisine -- it is and incredibly simple dish, made with only a handful of ingredients, and yet manages to be spectacularly tasty, in the same category as the equally paired down, minimal cacio e pepe, spaghetti aglio e olio, and cicoria alla romana. It isn't fancy, or fussy, or intimidating, just straightforwardly delicious, fast, and easy. What more could you want in a recipe?!

A couple of notes: As you can see in the photo below, I was cooking for two not four, so there are only two cutlets pictured -- if you're cooking for 4 follow of course the quantities provided below. Try and buy sage leaves that are on the bigger side so that they can be easily secured with the toothpick/lend more sage-y flavor. That's about it for notes, this is a pretty easy one, I think!

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SALTIMBOCCA ALLA ROMANA

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
4 veal cutlets
4 leaves of sage
4 slices of prosciutto
1/2 cup white wine

4 toothpicks
Wax paper

Directions:
Start with your veal cutlets. If you don't have cutlets that are very thin -- place each cutlet between two pieces of wax paper and using a meat pounder (or any other heavy object you have on hand -- I have been known to use a big jar of Nutella) pound the meat until thin, one at a time. Next, place slice of prosciutto on top of each cutlet, then a sage leave, and use a toothpick to secure the prosciutto and sage leaf to the cutlet.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cutlets, prosciutto side up, and season with a bit of salt and pepper (keeping in mind that the prosciutto is already on the salty side).
Turn the veal cutlets after a few minutes and let them brown on the other side, seasoning again. Add the wine to the skillet and let it cook down and reduce for a few minutes.
Remove the cutlets from the pan when cooked through and golden on both sides, and remove a plate. Carefully remove the toothpicks.
Serve your saltimbocca alla romana immediately with the wine-y pan sauce you have created. These are great with a side of roast potatoes. Serves 4.



















Peanut Butter Banana Bread

While I loved the fish and chips, chicken tikka masala, and scones with clotted cream we tried during our trip to London already four months ago (time flies!), it was the peanut butter banana bread from the cafĂ© (called Department of Social Sciences and Coffee) next to our apartment that stayed with me most. Apart from the fact that it was delicious -- served lightly toasted, with a little butter and jam -- its appeal also lay in the fact that it was so clearly, blatantly, un-Italian. Now, don't take that the wrong way -- you know I love Italian food!-- but every once in a while its nice to eat something a little different, something you know you'll never, ever find in Italy, just to shake things up. I ditched my usual cappuccino-and-cornetto routine and had a slice of peanut butter banana bread for breakfast every morning in London, and I've had it in my head to recreate it ever since then.

Now! If you're not American, I know what you're thinking. You're having doubts about the peanut butter/banana combination, aren't you? The thing is, we Americans loveeeee peanut butter. We spread it on crackers, bagels, and toast, pair it with apples and celery, and sandwich it between bread to make peanut butter sandwiches. And not just plain pb sandwiches -- in the U.S of A we also love our peanut butter and bacon sandwiches (yes, you read that correctly, and its divine) peanut butter and Fluff sandwiches, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If this all sounds strange -- some of those "only in America" flavor combinations -- you'd be absolutely right. But consider this -- peanut butter is one of those ingredients that has an uncanny ability to complement and exalt a variety of other ingredients, odd as the pairings might seem. Its salty sweetness wakes up milder flavors (the aforementioned apple) and emphasizes stronger ones (dark chocolate, for example) and also tempers sweeter ones, which brings us back to today's peanut butter and banana combo. There are few better breakfasts than a slice of toast with peanut butter and banana, as far as I'm concerned, and if you're still skeptical, remember: Elvis Presley himself enjoyed (fried) peanut butter and banana sandwiches. If its good enough for the King, its good enough for you.

So! Today's peanut butter and banana bread puts together these two somewhat unlikely but incredibly compatible flavors, giving the classic banana bread a delicious twist. The peanut butter and banana flavors both shine and play together nicely here, neither one overwhelming the other; the texture is perfect, light and fluffy; the sweetness is spot on, just enough, another one of those "not-too-sweet" baked goods I've been making more and more of; and the peanut butter, yogurt, and whole wheat flour make this seem like a vaguely healthy breakfast choice (certainly healthier than a donut, at least!) It is lovely served with a swoosh of peanut butter or a drizzle of honey, a treat at breakfast, brunch, or for (midnight)snack. My peanut butter banana bread craving has been successfully satisfied, but even if you haven't been dreaming about this the past four months, I suggest you make it, too. Yummm.

A couple of notes: I think the whole wheat flour here is really nice, but feel free to use all white flour instead of whole wheat flour here, if you don't have it. I think a little cinnamon would also be a tasty addition. Feel free to add chocolate chips if you want to make things a little more decadent, and remember to use overripe banaas (the brown, ugly ones) as they have the most flavor. You can also bake the batter in muffin pans if you want Peanut Butter Banana Muffins.

Looking for other banana-y recipes? I've got these Banana Pecan Waffles, this Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread and these Banana Nutella Muffins. Want more peanut butter recipes? I've got these Peanut Butter Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies, these Magical, 4 Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies, and this Peanut Butter Pie. In search of more breakfast-y loaf cakes? Allow me to recommend this Ricotta Pound Cake, this Chocolate Loaf Cake, this Lemon Poppy seed Cake, and this Triple Orange Pound Cake.

PEANUT BUTTER BANANA BREAD

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups (195 grams) flour
1/2 cup (65 grams) whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup (120 grams) peanut butter
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1/2 cup (85 grams) light brown sugar
1/3 cup (85 grams) plain yogurt
1/4 cup (50 grams) vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius). Butter an 8x4 inch loaf pan and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, sugars, yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla.
Add the mashed bananas to the peanut butter mixture and stir until the bananas are well incorporated, then add the dry ingredients and stir until everything is just combined. 

Pour the batter in to the loaf pan and bake for about an hour and 15 minutes, being sure to cover the loaf with aluminum foil if it starts to brown (you'll probably have to do this at the 45 minute mark). When a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean with a few crumbs attached and no batter, the bread is ready. Let your Peanut Butter Banana Bread cool completely before slicing and serving. Serves 10-12.
Recipe adapted from www.browneyedbaker.com








Roasted Asparagus with Gremolata + Burrata

When I first made this dish, I reported back (as I always do) to a few of my friends who are buone forchette, food enthusiasts who humor me whenever I feel I've come across something blog-worthy. While everyone was clear on what asparagus is, the other two words in this recipe title -- burrata and gremolata -- seemed to be fuzzier: "Never heard of gremolata, can't say I've ever eaten burrata though it sounds familiar" -- commented one, while another commented: "gremolata...sounds kind of like gremlin??". 

Firstly, no gremlins were harmed in the making of this recipe, and secondly, a little background on these two ingredients: Contrary to what their respective -ata endings might lead you to believe, burrata and gremolata are actually two very different and completely unrelated ingredients. Burrata can be best explained in my opinion as mozzarella di bufala, but even better, or rather, scraps of mozzarella di bufala that are mixed with cream (!!!) and then wrapped up in a sort of little cheese bag -- see photo below if you're confused -- that you cut in to release all the incredibly rich, tasty burrata. It is the most heavenly of all cheeses, as far as I'm concerned, one that has gained increasingly popularity in places other than Italy lately -- you can now find it in lots of supermarkets, even in my state of Rhode Island. Our second lesser known ingredient, gremolata, is reminiscent of pesto, a no-cook, herb-y sauce from the Lombardy region of Italy made of garlic, lemon zest, and parsley. It is traditionally served with meat like osso buco alla milanese or scaloppine.

This dish is a sort of jumble of things; you'd be hard-pressed to find gremolata served over asparagus here in Italy, for example. Burrata is most commonly served with tomatoes, not asparagus, and while gremolata and burrata are both Italian items, you wouldn't probably see them served together; the burrata and makes this dish feel luxurious, while the asparagus and green gremolata simultaneously make the dish seem light and refreshing. But that's exactly what's so special about this dish, at least for me: its not quite the usual burrata, tomatoes, and basil I find so often in Rome, but rather something a little different, Italian-ish, at best. The ingredients combine to make something that is both rich and fresh at the same time, a mix of crisp, virtuous asparagus and soft, gooey cheese, the mildness of the cheese playing off the tartness of the balsamic vinegar in the asparagus in a lovely way. The lemon and parsley keep things bright and refreshing, and the garlic adds a little bite and spiciness to keep things interesting. This is my new favorite thing to eat for dinner or as a starter for a dinner party if my sister and I feel like sharing -- and oh, did I mention it all comes together in about 20 minutes? Yes indeed.  

A couple of notes: If you can't get your hands on burrata, you can substitute mozzarella di bufala, and if you want to take the dish in a completely different direction, you can substitute a poached egg or two for the cheese. If you're not a fan of asparagus, I imagine green beans would stand in well here as well. Feel free to grill the asparagus instead of roasting it, or substitute the basil for parsley once the Summer is here -- it won't quite be gremolata, but it will still be delicious. I used a thicker variety of asparagus here, so if you use a thinner one, be sure to reduce the cooking time accordingly as it will of course cook faster.

Looking for other Spring-y, green recipes? I've got this Asparagus with Prosciutto, this Frittata di Spaghetti con Asparagi, these Carciofi alla giudia, this Pasta with fave, pecorino, e guanciale, this Risotto with Pancetta and Peas, and this superb (if I don't say so myself) Torta Pasqualina.

ROASTED ASPARAGUS WITH GREMOLATA + BURRATA

Ingredients for the asparagus and burrata:
10-12 spears of asparagus
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 burrata cheese (about 250 grams)

Ingredients for the gremolata:
2 teaspoons lemon zest (from one large lemon)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 generous tablespoon parsley
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius). If you're dealing with very thin asparagus, snap off the tough ends (this will happen easily). If you're using a thicker variety of asparagus, chop off the tough ends with a knife. Toss the asparagus with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar on a baking sheet, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, moving the asparagus around occasionally with a spatula, until it is lightly browned and can be pierced easily with a fork.
While the asparagus is roasting, prepare your gremolata. Chop up the parsley and garlic very finely, and mix with the lemon zest and olive oil along with the salt and pepper in a small bowl.
Place the roasted asparagus on a platter and spoon over the gremolata. Place the burrata alongside with a little more gremolata on the top, and dig in. Serves 2 for a light lunch and 4 as a starter.