Badass Beverage: Cooking With Wine – Saltimbocca alla Romana

Our badass sommelier tackles some veal cutlets with a copy of ABSOLUTE WATCHMEN.

Man, I am getting hungry again. The weather is not quite warm enough for me to be grilling regularly, but we’re definitely past the beef and barley stew season. Luckily, there are plenty of light springy dishes out there, and this is one of my favorites.

Mostly because it is dead simple to make.

It Jumps In Your Mouth.

Saltimbocca alla Romana is a staple of the Italian kitchen and is particularly prominent in Roman cuisine. Despite its name, though, the dish actually originates in Brescia, in the north of Italy. Nevertheless, it has been served in Rome’s restaurants and taverns for hundreds of years, and though there are many different ways of preparing Saltimbocca, “alla Romana” is my favorite.

It’s a matter of balance. When done right, all of the dish’s flavors will mingle perfectly, with nothing being overpowered.

But the same could be said for chicken and waffles, and that is boring as hell. That is a dish that I find to be so dull and bland because the entire point is that none of these seemingly conflicting ingredients are at odds. The fried chicken, Belgian waffle, powdered sugar and hot sauce are four voices singing together.

The veal, prosciutto di Parma, sage and wine in Saltimbocca alla Romana are four voices singing in harmony. The individual ingredients stand out, yes, but they create a greater whole.

What I’m getting at is Saltimbocca alla Romana is the Shirelles.

This is the kind of dish that I particularly love to make. It is simple and elegant and, again, balanced. It’s the same qualities I look for in good wine.

Speaking of, we’ll need a bottle or three for dinner.

Il Vino Bianco d’Italia.

Since we’re having an Italian dish, let’s drink Italian wine. Italian whites in particular are some of the best and most underappreciated wines available. Just skip the Pinot Grigio.

I don’t like the idea of discouraging anyone from enjoying any particular wine. The best wine is your favorite wine, and that’s the end of that. But when it comes to Italy, and especially when it comes to Italy’s white wines, it’s incredibly rewarding to be a little adventurous.

There are nearly a thousand different varietals grown in Italy, and the overwhelming majority of these are grapes that have spent centuries becoming acclimated to the unique climates of their respective appellations, to the point that there are grapes that simply don’t grow anywhere else in the world.

Pinot Grigio, though, is boring. Usually it is one-dimensional and inoffensive. At its best, like in the Grand Cru vineyards of Alsace, it's deep and robust, never reaching the highs of a Chardonnay or Riesling, but delivering charming grace notes all the same. At its worst it is over-produced, thin and flavorless. And over-priced. This is a real sticking point for me because Italian whites offer such tremendous value, and the idea of over-paying for mediocre wine is ridiculous.

You’re spoiled for options when it comes to quality wine in Italy. Take a look at Arneis, which has been cultivated in Piedmont since the 15th century, and makes a full-bodied, floral wine that is all almonds and apricots. Or Gavi di Gavi, made from the Cortese grape, which is one of the all-time great wines to serve with seafood. Soave is one of my favorites, and if I see a label I don’t recognize I buy it without hesitation. It is made using the Garganega grape and is surprisingly similar to white Burgundy.

But since we’re making a Roman dish, I think we should be drinking a wine from the Roman Empire.

The vineyards in Campania, in the southwest of Italy, are some of the oldest in the world. The ancient Falanghina grape was the basis for Falernum, the most famous wine of ancient Rome (and the wine that fueled Julius Caesar in his campaign to conquer Spain), and is still cultivated today. Falanghina is absolutely delicious, light-bodied and crisp, and with earthy, mineral flavors and a distinctly nutty character. It is perfect for dinner, as the intensity will stand up to the flavors of our Saltimbocca, but its light style will ensure it doesn’t overpower the meal.

To the Kitchen, with Haste!

You will need:

About 15 minutes (I find one episode of Adventure Time playing in the background just about covers it, start to finish, but maybe I’m the weird one for using cartoons as a unit of measurement).

As many veal cutlets as you are willing to eat.

A pile of sage leaves, the fresher the better.

Prosciutto (I like di Parma best, but use your favorite here).

Some butter.

Unflavored toothpicks. Maybe I shouldn’t have to specify “unflavored” but I once used a bunch of those individually wrapped toothpicks you get at diners and that didn’t go well. Plus I got weird looks from the waitress as I was shoving handfuls of them into my pockets.

Wine! I’ll be sticking with the aforementioned Falanghina, but I’ve had luck with all sorts of things, from Sauvignon Blanc to Marsala to Grüner-Veltliner. Rule of thumb here is to use whichever wine you’re going to be drinking with dinner, and to choose something that will complement the dish.

And a relatively large pan.

Okay, first pour yourself a glass of wine. You’ll want to have those veal cutlets pressed as thin as possible, like to a quarter inch thickness, so grab a mallet or that fuck-off-huge copy of Absolute Watchmen and go to town*. Place slices of prosciutto and whole sage leaves evenly over the veal, then fold the whole thing over so you have a little veal and meat and sage taco looking thing, and skewer shut with your toothpicks.

Melt a tablespoon-ish (I don’t know, eyeball it) of butter so that it evenly coats the pan, then cook the Saltimbocca-to-be** for a couple minutes on one side, until the veal starts to turn brownish grayish. This is why you want the cutlets to be pressed real thin so that it cooks quickly - you don’t want the prosciutto to dry out.

Flip the Saltimbocca and drizzle about half a cup of wine over it. Cook for a couple of minutes, until the veal is nice and grayish brown, then remove and cover to keep warm. Reduce the remaining wine by about half, adding a little butter if it looks like it needs thickening. Pour the sauce over the Saltimbocca (this is what makes it alla Romana), take out the toothpicks, and dig in.

Buono appetito.

*I’ve done this. I’m not proud.

**Ancoraimbocca? My Italian is lousy.

P.S. I drank quite a few Italian whites this week, for research purposes, including a cheeky little Vermentino, which is a very pretty and zesty wine that is probably too light for Saltimbocca, but perfect for calamari or summer salads. Drink anything cool recently? Let’s talk downstairs.