I was forced into making this meal by my absolute cretin of a housemate who left the freezer door open all night, resulting in a lot of my prized, hoarded and expensive ingredients turning into a pile of bacteria-riddled mush. If you can sense a deep underlying streak of sheer rage in the previous sentence, you would be correct. I won't, however, bore you with an account of how I'd like to inflict upon him a slow and agonising death involving frostbite and salmonella. Instead, I will look on the bright side: I had to find a quick use for a packet of veal rump steak that had completely thawed into supple, cookable goodness.
I bought this veal from Bocaddon Farm at the Real Food Festival. I've had their veal before and it's always delicious; it's a treat I rarely allow myself, as it's pretty expensive at the butchers lately, but Bocaddon had a lot of offers on at the festival, so I traipsed home laden with sausages, burgers, a roasting joint and this steak. It's ethical veal, not the hideous anaemic stuff you get in Europe, so it's both delicious and welfare-friendly. The steak tastes quite like beef, but much milder, and its colour is closer to pork.
Initially I was going to sear the steaks and serve them with a creamy mushroom sauce, but then I remembered the Italian classic dish, saltimbocca. I love the name of this dish: it literally means 'jumps in the mouth'. And it really does: the combination of parma ham, veal and fried sage, cooked in marsala, is a salty, meaty, slightly sweet marriage made in heaven. The Italians do wonderful things with sage, far more interesting than the Christmas pork stuffing which is about as far as we Brits go. One of the best things I've ever eaten was a plate of meat-filled casoncelli pasta in a trattoria in Bergamo, served with a simple sage butter sauce. In Ferrara I had the same sauce over a plate of pumpkin-stuffed ravioli. The combination of sage and butter over meaty or sweet pumpkin pasta is utterly divine.
This dish is one of the easiest I've ever made. I also love how it has such Italian colours: the white and red of the parma ham with the green of the sage leaves is like a little Italian flag on your plate. I wrapped the veal steaks in parma ham, enclosing a few sage leaves, seasoned them, and pan-fried them to rare. I kept them warm while I deglazed the pan with sherry (marsala is way too expensive for my student budget), added a little arrowroot to thicken the sauce, and then served them on a pile of polenta, with sautéed mushrooms and green beans. The parma ham makes the steaks quite salty, but it's balanced out by the perfume of the sage leaves and then the very sweet sherry sauce. Satisfying and delicious. Not bad for something that arose from an act of selfish appliance-related ineptitude. Apparently writing this blog post did not prove cathartic enough - the anger is still there.
Veal saltimbocca (serves 2):
- 2 veal steaks
- 2-4 slices parma ham
- Sage leaves
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 200ml sherry or marsala
- 1 tsp arrowroot or cornflour mixed with 1 tsp cold water
- Polenta and vegetables, to serve
Lay a few sage leaves over the veal steaks. Season. Wrap one or two slices of parma ham around each steak to enclose the leaves.
Heat the oil in a frying pan until smoking. Add the steaks; cook for a couple of minutes on each side (or longer, depending on how cooked you like your meat and how thick your steaks are). Remove to a plate and cover with foil to rest while you make the sauce.
Throw a sprig of sage into the pan. Pour the sherry into the hot pan and stir to deglaze. Let it bubble for a minute or so, then stir in the arrowroot mixture to thicken the sauce. Taste and check the seasoning; it should be quite sweet. Pour over the veal steaks, and serve with polenta or mash, and your choice of vegetables.