Involtini Di Vitello Alla Siciliana (Sicilian Veal Rolls)

The first time I had these traditional Sicilian rolls was in a small Italian restaurant just off the main drag in Camps Bay. The moment I saw them on the menu I knew I had to have them. Not only did they sound utterly delicious, but just saying the dish’s name out-loud when ordering it made me feel thoroughly Italian!

INVOLTINI DI VITELLO ALLA SICILIANA (SICILIAN VEAL ROLLS)Sadly, in spite of its gloriously evocative name, I was actually less than thrilled with the meal, albeit it has been suggested that I should never eat out given my propensity for disappointment. Nevertheless, in spite of my culinary chagrin, I was convinced that the dish still had merit and that it was worth trying to recreate at home. After some obsessing and research, I eventually attempted my own involtini and I’m pleased to say that they didn’t disappoint!

Whilst there are a myriad of versions of involtini out there, this particular recipe is very much typical of the involtini from the Sicilian capital Palermo. Loaded with ingredients such as toasted pine nuts, raisins, onion, bay leaf and pecorino, these rolls are wonderfully aromatic. Another filling option is to include some pepperoni, as they do in the region around Catania. Given the wide range of regional variations, feel free to play around with the filling – chances are it will still be delicious!

With regards to what to serve with your involtini, I would recommend pairing them with some Swiss chard sautéed with a few mushrooms, some garlic and a splash of white wine or vermouth. Add a few slow-roasted cherry tomatoes and you’ll have a veritable feast!

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OssobucoArguably the figlio preferito of Lombardy’s regional cuisine, ossobuco is, perhaps, the ultimate Italian braise. This is not a dish for the fainthearted, this is real stick-to-your-ribs fare! I would categorise ossobuco as lick-your-plate food, something that, even in the politest of company, I cannot help but do!

Sadly though, like many other Italian classics, ossobuco has suffered more than its fair share of well intended culinary-meddling and is, more often than not, worse off for it. Of course, there is never a definitive version of any Italian recipe. Familial traditions and regional variations are the norm throughout Italy and, as a result, there are countless interpretations of how to cook ossobuco. But as with all culinary classics, there are always rules and whilst none are ever truly set in stone, these are the three “ossobuco rules” that I recommend adhering to:

  1. Meat: Ossobuco should only ever be made with veal shanks. Unfortunately this isn’t really negotiable, as it simply would not be ossobuco if it was made with beef shanks, or perish the thought, lamb. Whilst the braise still works well with either beef or lamb shanks, you could not in good conscious call the dish ossobuco if you used either of these.
  2. Bone-marrow: Ossobuco literally translates as bone-hole, so it should come as no surprise that bone-marrow is an inescapable part of the dish. In fact, sucking out the tender veal-marrow is integral to the joy of eating ossobuco. If you are still haunted by Mad Cow disease, then this most definitely isn’t the dish for you!
  3. Accompaniments: In truth, ossobuco can be served with just about anything; whether it be with a crisp potato rosti or with buttery mash, it will be delicious. But just because it tastes good, doesn’t make it right! Traditionally ossobuco is always served with risotto alla Milanese and is typically garnished with a sprinkling of gremolata. Sometimes tradition knows best and this is such a time, the combination of all three elements is simply stellar! Even if you don’t serve it with the risotto, I would urge you not to skip the gremolata – it is very easy to make and elevates the ossobuco to an entirely different level.

For aficionados there are, of course, a myriad of other do’s and don’ts: should tomato be added, red wine or white? To be honest, our pantries and situations do not always allow us the luxury of perfection so, rules or no rules, we have to make do with what we have available.

As much as I absolutely love ossobuco, I usually have mixed emotions whenever I see it on a menu and I never order it lightly. Despite my mind being awash with those pesky “rules”, provided the basic tenets are adhered to, my leap of faith is invariable justified and I still enjoy my dining choice irrespective of my skepticism. Testament, perhaps, to ossobuco’s infinite variability and appeal. I guess you just can’t keep a good dish down!

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Veal Masala with Mushrooms

Much to my carnivorous delight veal has become increasingly easy to source in Cape Town and when I do chance upon it, I enviably buy some to make escalope milanaise (basically an Italian weiner schnitzel) for my partner’s dinner. I usually always make sure that there’s enough meat left over so that I can make myself one of my favourite Italian dishes – veal masala with mushrooms.

This sweet and satisfying meal is surprisingly easy to make and is just the right side of retro-dining chic without being a culinary cliché.

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