On Sunday supplement
Food and Wine
This last week I was listening to an NPR broadcast online, an interview with Eugene Gagliardi, the inventor of the Steak-Umm (and other “convenience foods”), that pale imitation of a lunch steak. It got me thinking – a couple of years ago, here in Argentina, the local Heritage Commission declared a new range of food items that were considered “emblematic” of porteño culture. Those of us who live here in our adopted country have become used to offbeat claims in casual conversation by many a local that one plate or another is Argentine in origin. Often, these dishes are ones that anyone who travels the globe or explores the world of food knows existed elsewhere in the world long before Argentina had anything but a native, indigenous cuisine. But this wasn’t some guy at the local kiosk, this was an official government announcement.
The one that generated the most controversy at the time among my circle of friends was the milanesa a la napolitana, that ubiquitous local version of a weiner schnitzel topped with ham, cheese, and a bit of tomato sauce. Much of the controversy came from the juxtaposition of “milanesa” (from Milan) and “napolitana” (from Naples). The milanesa part is easy, pounded thin, breaded and fried slices of beef or veal are called cotoletta alla milanesa in Italy, or, a “Milan style cutlet”, and have been since before the first Italian set foot on South American soil.
While the name “a la Napolitana” is both claimed locally to come from the idea of Neapolitan pizza or from a restaurant called El Napolitano that existed in the 1940s over by Luna Park; most likely this is a simple renaming of the classic Neapolitan saltimbocca alla Sorrentina – pounded thin, floured or breaded, fried slices of veal topped with Parma ham, mozzarella, and a fresh tomato sauce. The dish has been around since long before anyone from Sorrento headed to Argentina. Who knows, maybe that’s where the owners of El Napolitano were from?
One can even look at things like schnitzel “cordon bleu”, a dish dating back to some unknown time in the history of L’Ordre des Chevaliers du Saint Esprit, the organization of knights famed for their luxurious banquets since 1578… this dish a breaded cutlet topped with a thin slice of ham and melted cheese – only missing that bit of tomato sauce.
But regardless, it’s a favorite lunch, there are even restaurants dedicated to nothing but differing versions of the milanesa. And, while we may not fire up the grill just to make a casual meal, we’re quite happy to throw a couple of these lunch steaks into a pan and make our own version – generally without the breading and frying part, though trust me, we’re not going to stop you if that’s your preference. This version, a favorite here at home, is based on a traditional scallopini from Umbria.
Umbrian Veal Scallops
4 large veal scallops (milanesas de ternera)
5 cloves of garlic
1 small onion, chopped
1 small bunch basil
4 sprigs oregano
4 leaves of mint
1 sprig rosemary
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
2 salted anchovies
juice of 4 lemons
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Season the veal with salt and pepper and saute in olive oil. The remaining ingredients are pounded together in a mortar, or, in modern day, pulsed in a food processor or blender to form a sauce. Add the sauce to the pan and cook just enough to warm it. Adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper if needed. Serve the veal slices with the sauce spooned over them, and a nice green salad on the side. Serves 4.
A series of recipes and articles that I started writing for the Buenos Aires Herald Sunday supplement, Food & Wine section, at the beginning of 2012. My original proposal to them was to take local favorite dishes and classics and lighten them up for modern day sensibilities. We’re not talking spa or diet recipes, but at the very least, making them healthier in content, particularly salt, fat and portion size. As time went by, that morphed into a recipe column that, while emphasizing food that is relatively “good for you”, wasn’t necessarily focused on local cuisine. At the beginning of 2013 I decided to stop writing for them over some administrative issues, but it was fun while it lasted.