68: Vitello alla Toonsie

68: Vitello alla Toonsie

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love

Vitello alla Toonsie

A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets.

~Gloria Stuart

If you can’t keep a secret just turn to another story. If my husband finds out about this, I’m in serious trouble.

You see, Prospero’s favorite meal is Italian-style veal cutlets. It’s really a very simple dish of thinly sliced veal dipped in an egg wash seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder, pecorino cheese and then coated with Italian seasoned breadcrumbs. That’s the key — Italian breadcrumbs. Don’t pull out your plain American crumbs, or, Heaven forbid, corn flakes. And this certainly isn’t the time for panko crumbs. Save the Japanese fusion for another meal. No, classic Vitello Milanese, as they call it in Italy, is breaded veal cutlets fried until golden in a pool of olive oil and served with lemon wedges. Simple.

Of course, in this country we like to take this dish and cover it with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese for veal parmesan, but I prefer more traditional sides when I’m making it at home. In cool weather I sauté broccoli rabe in olive oil with garlic chips and hot red pepper flakes. There’s nothing better on a cold day than topping your veal cutlet with a steaming ladle of thick escarole and white bean soup and eating it by the fire.

During the summer months I have the bounty of my garden from which to select. I like to pick an assortment of peppers and sauté them in olive oil and a splash of white balsamic vinegar with cloves of garlic, which soften and can be spread on bread. A salad of arugula, tomatoes, basil and red onion dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar makes a cool, refreshing topping for veal on a warm summer evening. Of course all of these dishes are served with crusty Italian bread and a lovely Italian red wine.

I always have to be sure to make extra because nothing is more delicious than a sandwich of veal and one of the toppings on hearty Italian bread. It’s the only sandwich Prospero will take to work and he always calls me afterward to profess his undying love, which still tickles me to no end.

The problem is that veal is becoming pricey, although my sainted mother, Terry, would disagree.

“Veal cutlet is very economical,” she would insist, “There’s no bone, no fat, no waste. You eat the entire cutlet.”

Well, she had a point there, but veal has been selling for $19.99 a pound lately, forcing me to stock up when I see it on sale, thereby breaking another one of my mother’s golden rules.

“Always buy veal fresh from an Italian butcher!” my mother would command.

And for many years I did just that, but even in northern New Jersey, that bastion of Italian-Americans, Italian butchers are becoming tough to find. So I buy my veal when I find it on sale, freeze it — the horror! — and defrost it when I need it.

That’s what created the problem.

The veal was sitting on the counter in its supermarket plastic wrapping, happily defrosting until it was time to cook. I was outside with Toonsie, our black long-haired cat, who was terrorizing a chipmunk on the patio. I picked her up and put her in the house while I gathered my things to come in. When I walked into the house I heard, ka-plump!

“Toonsie, what are you doing?” I called.

Usually that sound means that she’s somewhere she doesn’t belong, but Toonsie was sitting innocently on the kitchen floor. Everything was fine until I began to prepare dinner. My veal, my precious veal, was partly ripped from the package and the ends were nibbled!

What was I going to do? I had already told Prospero to get his mouth set for veal cutlets. My veal cutlets. Homemade. With sautéed peppers.

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I cut off the portion of the veal that was sticking out of the wrapper and served the rest for dinner. And if you tell Prospero what I did I swear I’ll hunt you down. If he had an inkling that he ate Toonsie’s leftovers for his supper, he’d hit the roof.

I had to tell this story because I could no longer bear the burden of keeping this a secret. Never before have I kept something from my husband. We’ve had thirty-one years of honesty until a little kitty cat with the appetite of a Bengal tiger decided to indulge in a snack.

I can’t help feeling that if I had only listened to my mother and bought fresh veal from a real Italian butcher it would have been sitting safely in the refrigerator instead of on the counter, and this whole mess wouldn’t have happened.

~Lynn Maddalena Menna

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