Saturday Cooking: Pollo alla Saltimbocca

This is a family recipe that I enjoyed when I first visited relatives in Bussolengo, Italy.  Bussolengo is a town outside of Verona, in the north.  Since most Italian-Americans descend from ancestors from the south of Italy, we often think of Italian food as using a lot of tomatoes and olive oil.  In the north, however, the cuisine has a lot of butter and cream, not nearly as much in the way of red sauces, and–at least in Veneto–risotto is as common as pasta.

The original Saltimbocca alla Romana was a veal-rollup with basil and sage.  A lot of people in Italy use chicken instead and leave the cutlets flat.  I enjoyed it so much when I visited my cousins that I taught myself to make it at home (I was not allowed in the kitchen when I was a guest), and I make it frequently to this day.

Often, people serve their versions of Saltimbocca on a bed of spinach.  I do the same, but I take an interesting shortcut: I do not saute the spinach.  I simply place it on a lightly oiled serving dish in the oven at 225 degrees for about ten or fifteen minutes.  I like spinach, but I don’t like it to be too moist or overcooked.  The timing has to be right, though.  The preparation below has basic instructions to cook the spinach.

To restore this dish to its Roman roots, simply substitute veal for the chicken called for below.  Roll the pieces up if you like, and use the toothpicks to hold each roll together.

Those who like wine will probably enjoy this meal with any dry white.  I usually have Soave when I make Saltimbocca.  It goes well with both veal and chicken versions.

Pollo alla Saltimbocca
(Chicken Saltimbocca)

raw spinach (baby spinach is fine, but mature spinach is better)
two cloves of garlic, diced
four chicken cutlets, thin, dusted with flour
four slices of prosciutto
fresh basil and sage leaves
four slices of provolone cheese
six ounces of chicken stock
two ounces of dry white wine

Set the oven to warm.  On each floured cutlet, place one leaf each of basil and sage.  Cover with a slice of prosciutto and use toothpicks on each end of the cutlet to hold everything in place.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the diced garlic and saute the spinach lightly until it begins to wilt.  Transfer to an oven-safe serving dish and keep warm in the oven.

Add more butter to the pan, and brown the cutlets on both sides until cooked through but not dried out.  Remove the toothpicks from the cutlets, and arrange the pieces on top of the spinach in the serving dish.  Place a slice of provolone on top of each cutlet, return to the oven, and increase the heat to about 250 to melt the cheese.

Keep the pan on medium heat to brown the residue from the cutlets.  Deglaze with the stock and wine.  Boil off roughly half the volume, then reduce the heat as you gradually stir in butter to thicken the sauce.  Remember to keep stirring the sauce, or it will separate.

Remove the serving plate from the oven, pour the sauce over the cutlets, garnish with sprigs of parsley, and serve.

Depending on the size of the cutlets and everyone’s appetite, this preparation can serve two to four people.  It can also be doubled as needed.

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