(Source: Salute Trattoria Italiana)
In Italian cuisine, veal is often used as the base of many savory dishes. Its tender texture and delicate flavor are truly unlike anything else, so there’s no wonder why it’s the centerpiece of so many classic recipes.
To be honest, it would require an entire book to comprehensively cover all of the veal dishes dishes you might encounter in Italian cooking. So we’ll start small here, introducing you to four key veal dishes that you should know, and should absolutely try. These are some of our favorites, and are all on the menu at Salute Trattoria Italiana.
What is veal? Before we discuss classic Italian veal dishes, it may be helpful to get a primer on the meat itself. Veal is a meat which comes from cows, but it is different than beef. Veal comes from the male calves of dairy cows. When the animal is this young, the meat is quite light in color, has an incredibly fine grain, and an exceedingly tender texture.
As cows grow, the meat darkens and the grain becomes more defined; at that time, we begin calling the meat beef. However, since dairy cows in general are not used for beef, the calves from which we get veal would be unlikely to be used for beef.
In the culinary world, veal is considered a delicacy. It’s typically not a type of meat that most people are cooking on a daily basis, which contributes to its specialness. Its delicate texture and flavor make it a divine savory treat to enjoy along with the fresh flavors and quality ingredients that are inherent to great Italian cooking.
Now that you’re educated about what veal is, let’s discuss some of the classic dishes in which it is employed, and (important!) a few suggestions for pairing each one with wine.
Veal Marsala. This umami-rich dish starts with veal cutlets, or thin pieces of boneless veal. The veal cutlets are typically quite thin, so they only need to be sauteed briefly on each side to attain a golden color and thorough cooking that is not overdone. The veal itself is minimally spiced, because it’s covered in an assertively flavored marsala sauce.
While veal is at the heart of this dish, it’s the marsala sauce that gives it soul. Marsala is an Italian wine primarily from the Sicily region. It is what is called a “fortified” wine, which means it’s combined with another type of alcohol, usually brandy or another grape spirit. The wine is combined with sauteed mushrooms, and aromatics such as garlic and onions, and cooked so that it reduces to a thick, flavor-condensed mixture. Another liquid, for instance broth or cream, may be combined with the sauce, which is served with the veal. At Salute, our veal marsala is made with a Sicilian marsala wine sauce and wild mushrooms, and will absolutely leave you wanting more.
Wine pairing: An assertively flavored, umami-rich sauce like marsala calls for an assertive wine. A rioja or merlot are both good picks to pair with veal marsala.
Veal Parmigiana. A parmigiana dish, or “parmesan” as it’s referred to in English, is a method of preparing meat or eggplant; perhaps you’ve heard of chicken or eggplant parmesan. Veal parmigiana is of the same class of preparation.
A parmigiana dish is a sort of casserole/bake composed of breaded and fried meat, in this case veal, which is paired with tomato sauce and cheese. It’s baked until the cheese is bubbly and golden, and has the exact right combination of soft and firm, solid and gooey, texture-wise. Flavor-wise, it’s dish that is all about balance: the unctuous fried meat is rich; the acidity of tomato sauce helps lighten it, and the creaminess of the cheese keeps it from being too tart. At Salute, our veal is traditionally breaded breaded, and served with tomato-basil sauce, fresh mozzarella, and of course, parmigiano.
Wine pairing: When it comes to veal parmigiana, you want a wine that can stand up to the tang of the tomato sauce and the creaminess of the cheese. A well rounded wine such as chianti would be a good pick.
Veal Saltimbocca: Not that there’s a contest, but this dish absolutely has the most interesting name. Saltimbocca translates roughly as “jumps in the mouth”, and that’s exactly what this flavor-packed dish does. The veal is often marinated and is either sliced and filled or topped with a ham product (often proscuitto) and either sage or basil. At Salute, our version includes breaded veal, and comes along with fontina, smoked speck ham (an absolutely delicious cured ham), and crisp sage leaves.
Wine pairing: Savory dishes like this work well with a more fruit-forward wine. Food-friendly pinot noir is an ideal pairing, as it works with a little bit of contrast to the flavors of the dish.
Veal Chop Milanese. When it comes to meat, to refer to a “milanese” preparation often means that the meat is pounded thinly, coated in breadcrumbs, and then fried. Veal chop milanese follows that general procedure, and is often served with a contrastingly bright salad including greens and tomato. At Salute, we stick to tradition: the veal is breaded, and served with arugula, shaved parmigiano, grape tomatoes and aged balsamic vinegar. It’s a simple dish, but when executed perfectly and made with high quality ingredients, it’s exquisite.
Wine pairing: Contrast is the name of the game when it comes to choosing a wine to pair with this veal dish. You can balance out the rich, savory, salty meat with a riesling. Or, “cut” through it with a sparkling wine, which generally pairs amazingly well with breaded or fried foods.
Conclusion: Veal is a traditional and delicious ingredient employed in Italian cuisine. If you’ve never taken the time to appreciate this delicacy, then you’ve been missing out on a true culinary delight. We invite you to eat (and drink) your way through the menu at Salute Trattoria Italiana and discover how truly special veal can be when prepared with the proper technique and finest ingredients.
Have you tried any of these veal dishes?