The Food Maven Diary
Italians, with their wild imaginations, think small rolls of meat on a skewer resemble the small song birds that are cooked in the same way. It is now illegal to shoot and eat songbirds, because so few are left in Italy, although I know it is still done. For most of us, it is a moot point. We'd much rather have these rolls of veal seasoned with sage and prosciutto – the same combination as saltimbocca, which is a common dish in Italian restaurants in America. Indeed, you might think of this dish as saltimbocca on a skewer. By the way, this is a Tuscan recipe, and to fill out a summer menu, you might want to serve this with panzanella, the Tuscan bread salad. You could start with a salad of beans and shrimp dressed with lemon juice, your best condiment-quality extra virgin olive oil, and parsley. For dessert, how about some fresh figs featured with other fresh fruit. Okay, you're American. Add some ice cream.
I used to make these in my kitchen oven, hanging the skewers over a roasting pan, setting the oven at 500 degrees. Cooked that way, turned and basted twice with fresh olive oil, they take about 15 minutes. Cooked over hot briquettes or wood charcoal, however, they have a much better flavor and take slightly less time. I've given up on basting them, too. The wrap of fatty pancetta provides plenty of lubrication. And speaking of fat: Do not trim the fat off prosciutto. Ever. It is a very soft and digestible fat with a haunting flavor. Make sure the counterman who slices prosicutto for you leaves at least a 1/2-inch frame of fat around the slices – if not more. When using it here, tuck the fat into the veal rolls for added succulence and flavor.
Uccellini di Vitello alla Griglia
(Grilled Veal Birds)
Serves 4, 3 birds each
1 pound veal scaloppine, preferably cut from the leg, pounded thin (about 6 cutlets)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 large leaves fresh sage
1/4 pound prosciutto, sliced paper-thin
1/4 pound pancetta, sliced paper-thin
12 1/2-inch thick by about 2-inch wide or diameter slices Italian bread,
2 small onions, each cut in sixths
Extra virgin olive oil
Cut the slices of veal in half or thirds, depending on their size. You should have 12 pieces of about 2 1/2 inches wide and 4 inches long. Arrange all the ingredients in front of you.
Sprinkle each slice of veal lightly with salt and a little more generously with pepper. Place a sage leaf on each slice of veal, then top with a piece of prosciutto, trimming or tucking in the sides of the prosciutto so it covers the veal without going over the edges.
Roll up the veal tightly tucking in the sides, to make a neat roll. When you have completed three rolls, start skewering them.
On each skewer, place a slice of bread, a wedge of onion, and a veal roll wrapped with a piece of the pancetta. Secure the roll so that the ends of the pancetta are held together by the skewer. Repeat with another piece of bread and onion and another veal roll. Repeat again.
When all four skewers have been assembled, brush everything on each skewer with olive oil.
Place the skewers over medium heat on an open grill and, turning them several times using tongs, cook the veal birds until browned all over and cooked to the center, about 12 minutes.
Serve while still hot.