“La cucina Italiana è la madre cucina del mondo.” (“The Italian cuisine is the mother cuisine of the (western) world.”)
Lorenzo II De’ Medici was a banker in Florence who attained significant power and wealth by bankrolling the monarchies of Europe.
When his daughter Catherine De’ Medici married King Henry of France in 1547 and she moved there, she brought an entourage of Italian cooks with her. What they shared transformed the French cuisine and with the French penchant for refinement, became the foundation of haute cuisine as we know it.
The Italian cuisine remains simpler to this day, giving it a bare honesty and an elegance owed more to the quality of ingredients than to highly developed technique.
A mistaken assumption often taken is that Italian cuisine means one thing. It means something different to Italians from the different regions of Italy. It means something different to Italian-Americans whose families came from those regions.
Then there’s the Americanized Polaroid snapshot that we often see featured in American Italian restaurants – mushy pasta, heavy red sauces, meatballs and spaghetti. (Meatballs do exist in Italy, but you’ll never see them on a pile of spaghetti drowned in a pool of sauce.)
The Italian peninsula was a patchwork of independently governed territories until 1861. That’s 85 years after the American declaration of independence. As a result, these different regions had unique, well-established local traditions and fierce pride in their own local ingredients — all of which persists to this day.
Whether it’s olive oil from Liguria, Pecorino cheese from Sardinia or prosciutto from Parma, swordfish from Sicily, seafood from the Venice or tomatoes from Naples, the glorious bounty of excellent ingredients brings a dazzling sparkle to the Italian table.
Add to this the magical way they make their steaks in Florence, their swordfish in Sicily, seafood dishes in Venice, pizza in Naples and it’s no wonder that Italian restaurants thrive all over the world.
I have been lucky enough to have spent some time in Italy enjoying their great food and wines firsthand and have never hesitated to wiggle my way into the kitchen to learn how these great dishes are made.
This month of September, when local organic tomatoes and other veggies are bursting with flavor, I will present Italian classics at Old 5Mile House, like veal or chicken saltimbocca, Martini caprese, Bistecca a La Fiorentina, crab and pancetta pasta (think Italian mac-n-cheese), Pollo a la matone diavolo, caponata, Sicilian style grilled swordfish and much more
Try this quick and easy recipe for veal or chicken saltimboca (saltimboca means jumps in your mouth), at home and see how easily you can enjoy real Italian food at home.
Boun appetito, amici!
Veal/Chicken Saltimbocca a La Cinque
Veal or chicken pounded, seasoned with salt and pepper, 6-8 ounce per guest
Thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma (one slice per scallopini)
Sliced Fontina cheese
Chicken stock as necessary
Chopped fresh sage
1 sage leaf per serving
Salt and pepper meat, then dredge in flour. Shake off excess.
Sauté scallopini in hot clarified butter in a large pan till brown on one side over high heat.
Turn, sprinkle chopped sage in pan and some on top of meat. Lay a slice of prosciutto and then a slice of fontina on meat. Add sherry, scraping brown bits into the sauce. Then cover to melt cheese.
Plate scallopini, cook liquid to reduce (add chicken stock if necessary).
Pull pan from heat. Add cold butter to pan and whisk to thicken sauce.
Pour sauce over scallopini, garnish with sage leaf and serve with side of fettucine alfredo and a nice fresh salad.
A vibrant Vermentino or a crisp chardonnay would go well with this.
Robert Smith is the chef owner of the Old 5Mile House.