So winter’s back and I’m the presumptive First Lady for Manciano and I’m freaking out on both counts. Giulio decided that was he was going to run for mayor and the heavens opened up and brought pouring rain and temperatures in the low teens. Okay, so those two things are really connected, but they are both determining factors in this post and in every one of this week’s solo dinners.
With the Tuscan weather giving me the proverbial middle finger, I’ve committed myself to indulging in the culinary version of hibernation. Roll tide comfort food. Starting with veal involtini. I’ve made them five times this week, which is bordering on the obsessive, but that’s what you get when you return from work exhausted and there’s nothing in your fridge save a few forlorn veal steaks. They look at you with their non-existent eyes and say, “We wish we were a meatball sub too”. Yep, that’s right, this recipe began life as a craving for meatball subs after the supermarket had closed and neither mince meat nor a footlong baguette were in sight.
What I did have though were the leftover stragglers from the traditional work week sandwich – ham and cheese – and one egg that hadn’t found its way into a bacon brownie. And since this is an Italian kitchen, I always have more tomato puree than I can shake a stick at. Add a healthy dose of garlic and oregano to create my nonna’s signature tomato salsa and you have all the flavours of a meatball sub in an infinitely more elegant and healthier weekday dinner.
Of course, I didn’t invent veal involtini, but normally they’re just veal steaks flavoured with garlic, parsley, salt and pepper, rolled and cooked in a tomato sauce. I transformed them into the sort of gooey reverse meatball sub that follows you into your day dreams and makes you want to bring other meat eaters into the light… because, you know, you really care about them and you don’t want them to continue living in veal involtini-less hell. So convert, dear flock and while you’re add it, don’t discriminate in your choices of filling. Evolved versions of my involtini have included pickled jalapenos and prosciutto; steamed spinach, a really thin slice of white bread and ham; gorgonzola cheese and guanciale; and olives and truffled pecorino cheese. They aren’t all authentically Italian, but they are all utterly delicious.
Life update. Election season in small town Tuscany is surprisingly fervent. My competition in the First Lady stakes has been personally calling members of the electorate to encourage them to vote for her husband. I’ve been told on numerous occasions that I need to start kissing babies and hugging old people, which is going to be difficult since I’m not so much Jackie O as Big Foot, occasionally abandoning my hideout to stock up on cheese, meat and ham, ignoring the fresh produce aisle with my hair in disarray and marinara sauce all over my track pants. Clearly I need to think less about involtini and more about winning elections. Now bring me my pearls!
veal involtini in tomato sauce
12 thin veal steaks
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley
12 slices leg ham
12 slices provolone cheese
3 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
1⁄4 medium brown onion, finely chopped 1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon finely chopped basil leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley, extra
Pound the veal steaks with a meat mallet between 2 pieces of baking paper until 4mm thick. Season with salt, pepper and parsley. Place 1 slice of ham and 1 slice of provolone cheese on top of each veal steak followed by a piece of egg. Roll up tightly, skewer with a toothpick.
Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the veal steaks and cook for 4-5 minutes each side or until browned. Remove and set aside.
To make the sauce, heat another tablespoon of olive oil in the same saucepan you used to fry the veal. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes or until softened. Add the oregano, parsley, basil, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Add the veal steaks and cook for a further 30 minutes. Serves 6.