Monday, April 28, 2008

"The Swiss Cookbook" - Veal Cutlets from Ouchy

Date I made this recipe: April 27, 2008

The Swiss Cookbook by Nika Standen Hazelton
Published by: Atheneum
© 1967

Recipe: Veal Cutlets from Ouchy – p. 236

If you’re like me, spring doesn’t exactly equate with the heartier foods I tend to associate with Switzerland such as fondue or Rosti potatoes but people, when it’s the end of April and it is STILL snowing outside, then making a Swiss dish doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

Despite the weather, I still don’t know if I would have gone through with making a dish from this cookbook (it’s on a shelf on the way upstairs and happened to catch my eye) if I hadn’t opened another cookbook in my collection, Life is Meals. (Life is Meals – A Food Lover’s Book of Days by James and Kay Salter)

Now, I plan to actually make a recipe from Life is Meals at some other point in time, but Life is Meals is a chronicle of 365 food facts, food stories and/or recipes, one for each day of the month and each month of the year. And it was the entry in this book for April 24 that made me make the recipe I did from a Swiss cookbook in the middle of spring (a term we use loosely in this state).

You see, on April 24, one of my best friends, Carol, celebrated her 50th birthday. Carol has cancer. Actually Carol has ovarian cancer but it manifested self, in of all places, in the duodenum, a small sack that is part of the stomach and intestinal system. Carol has been unable to eat real food for over two months now and is frighteningly thin. And yet even in the hospital, she talked of food. In fact, she was oddly comforted by, of all things, programs on The Food Network. And even between rounds of chemotherapy, she still expresses in interest in the one activity she loves – eating. (In fact, she “approved” this recipe!)

Carol and I may share a long-term friendship but our view of food is vastly different. Whereas I am all about the process and following directions (especially for purposes of this blog), she is all about eating and experimenting. I can’t think of one recipe that she hasn’t tweaked since I’ve known her and she frequently substitutes things that I would never dream of adding. To her, the finished product is everything. To me, the finished product is just the result of the process and if the end result is good, it’s good and if it’s not, well then it’s not. Oftentimes, I lose interest in the entire dish once it is done (and leftovers really tend to bore me) but not her. She relishes every bite and loves having leftovers to freeze. My leftovers, if I keep them at all, reside in my refrigerator lest they fall victim to the dreaded freezer burn!

And so to her, Life is [indeed] Meals and there is nothing sadder than the fact that she cannot eat or even prepare any food at this point in time. Ensure, that hideous but necessary liquid vitamin drink is what is driving the bus and keeping her going and the route it takes is via feeding tube to the stomach. In this instance, life is no longer about meals, it is all about nutrients and there’s nothing fun, exciting or even remotely interesting in that. Nothing is savored at the end of the meal and there's most certainly nothing to freeze for a rainy day...or even a spring day that isn't!

So—how does this all relate back to a Swiss meal? Well, the entry for April 24th in Life Is Meals is a little story about Fritz Karl Vatel, a Swiss (key word here!) immigrant who worked as a steward for Louis XIV’s finance minister and who one day, ran short of food during a party honoring the king due to an unavoidable rush of last-minute guests (nothing seems to have changed much over the centuries—people, always remember to RSVP!), Feeling that his reputation was ruined, he fell on his sword while awaiting a late shipment of food and that was the end of that.

Now I must admit that it didn’t occur to me until just now that this suicide story might not go over well with a friend who is so ill but then again, Carol “gets it.” She understands in ways I do not that life really is about meals…and meals really are about life. And Vatel failed to appreciate that. Here is what one critic wrote of Vatel and the unfortunate incident: “An authoritative appeal to the goodwill of his team temporarily at a loss, some brief and clear orders called out over the tumult of the upset pots and pans, and the problem is resolved. The service continues.”

My friend, Carol, is nothing if not a problem-solver. If at all possible, she will solve this problem, get off the food rollercoaster she’s been on and once again savor a good steak with a dry martini or an excellent Veal Cutlet from Ouchy and life will go back to being all about meals. And that is how it should be.

Veal Cutlets from Ouchy (this made 3 servings using slightly under a pound of veal)

Note: I doubt very much if Ouchy is pronounced like we think it is—as in “I have a boo-boo.” But it reminds me of how many words I mispronounced as a kid, particularly chocolate mousse. It was always “mousey” to me!

4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon anchovy paste
1 ½ pounds veal scaloppini
Thin slices of boiled ham
Thin slices of Gruyere cheese
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Butter for sautéing

NOTE: Let me just say that it’s clear I don’t reside in a state populated by Italian-Americans because finding veal cutlets took some doing. I found veal shanks and veal roasts and in one place, veal chops but it wasn’t looking too good for the scaloppini home team until I visited a couple of Italian delis. Even then, the cutlets were frozen rather than fresh. I have to admit it was a headscratcher. One of the butchers at one of the regular grocery stores I visit said that they don’t stock them because there’s not much demand for them. Well, I demanded them—so there!

To make the recipe, mix the butter with the anchovy paste. Trim the meat so that the slices are all of the same size. The meat for this dish must be very thin so pound the cutlets down if you have to. Spread the anchovy butter on half of the meat slices. Top each with a slice of boiled ham and cheese. Cover with the remaining veal as if making sandwiches. Secure each meat sandwich with a toothpick or tie with a string. Take care that the cheese is well covered by the meat, or it will ooze out during the cooking. Dip the meat sandwiches in the beaten egg and then in the flour. Saute in hot butter for about 3 to 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Serve very hot with any green vegetable.

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