WRITTEN ON March 12th, 2010 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Beef, Cheese, Dinner, Holiday, Italian, Pork

My father is not a cook.  Let’s get this straight right away.  He is a great many wonderful things, but as far as cooking goes, it’s toast and delivery pizza (and the toast thing is extremely rare, though he’s been doing pretty well on the grill, of late).  My mother buys pre-cut Cracker Barrel cheese so that he can fix his own snacks.  Let’s just say that meal-wise, he’s pretty much a kept man.  Left to his own devices he’d exist on a diet of microwaved hot dogs and Campbells bean with bacon soup.

I write a lot on this blog about my main kitchen influences, my mother and grandmother.  When I started this little vanity project, I had in mind a sort of recipe file.  A way to keep track of all the things I created in my own kitchen.  As most of you have probably noticed, it’s morphed into a more personal account of my day to day life.  It’s become just as much a writing exercise as a cooking log.  And the love of writing came entirely from my dad.

I grew up in a house where books were never more than an arms length away. From an early age I was taught, by example, that reading was a hugely enjoyable part of life.  Better than TV.  Better than video games.  My dad reads at least three newspapers a day, and about five books a week.  He’s one of those people who is usually reading several volumes at once.  A fiction, a non-fiction, a collection of essays.  He’s a knowledge buff; a walking encyclopedia.  I can remember more than one research project where my primary source was in fact my father, though I could never cite him in a bibliography.

He’s one of those increasingly rare people who actually studies both sides of an argument.  He’s hugely opinionated, but he can expound a subject without drowning it in his opinion.  He makes sure to know every side of the story.  In my life I’ve met so few people like this.  Most are so assured of their argument, so positive they’re right, that they forget to even listen to the other side of things. It’s a little something I like to call ignorance, and sadly, it’s rampant these days.  I think this is the thing I love most about my father. It’s certainly the thing I’m most proud of.

I could listen to my dad talk for hours.  He has a way with words that is entirely his own.  Sardonic, witty, eloquent, perceptive, nostalgic, all at once.  Always peppered with a few choice expressions perfected during his years as a Marine (which were actually post-Peace Corps. He was never a follower, that’s for sure).  He has the mouth of a sailor and the pen of a poet. He’s one of the single most interesting people I’ve ever known. He has a mind of the first degree, and manages to share it without an ounce of stuffiness or arrogance.

He can draw people out of their shells and find a way to chat with the most terrified wall flower at the party. Indeed, has made a habit out of it.  It’s his own unique party trick.

Like everyone else, he’s far from perfect.  Growing up he wasn’t what one would call a fashion plate, and I can remember all too clearly cringing in embarrassment when, as a teenager, my friends would pull up and my dad would be mowing the lawn in an armpit shirt, drinking a pony of Rolling Rock and wearing espadrilles on his feet.  Did I mention the lawn mower was the old school non-electric blade mower?  Yup.  No motor on the mower and no gears on the bike. He said it made it more challenging.

This saltimbocca is right up his alley.  Not too heavy, simple.  Veal. He’s a meat and potatoes kind of guy, and attempting to share with him new kinds of cuisines can be at turns aggravating and comical.  One thing’s for sure.  There’s always laughter.

He worked for over twenty years as a banker, only to retire from the corporate world in order to teach in a Baltimore public high school.  Looking back, I wish I’d had him as a teacher myself.  But then, I guess I did.  And still do.

I veal for you

Veal Saltimbocca (serves 2)
4 veal cutlets, pounded thin
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
4 slices prosciutto
4 slices fresh mozzarella
4 sage leaves, torn
1/4 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350.  Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat. Pat dry the veal cutlets, season on both sides with salt and pepper.  Lay one slice of prosciutto over each cutlet.  Drizzle olive oil in the pan, then place two cutlets, prosciutto side down, into pan.  Cook about 1 minute per side until lightly browned.  Remove to baking sheet prosciutto side up.  Repeat with remaining two cutlets.  Deglaze pan with the wine.  Make sure to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom.  Bring to boil, then turn down to a simmer to reduce. Top with one slice mozzarella each, then place in oven to melt, about 5 minutes. While cheese is melting, check pan sauce.  Once the wine has reduced by about half, add the tbsp butter and the sage.  Season with salt and pepper if needed.  Serve cutlets on top of sauteed spinach and top with a drizzle of sauce.  Goes great with roasted potatoes.

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