Yesterday was one of those days when, despite the best of intentions and meticulous planning, (ok, not so much with the meticulous planning but certainly, as always, with the very best of intentions) time got away from me. I was left with only 50 minutes to prep, cook, serve and eat before my husband and I had to dash out the door to meet our realtor at yet another house that could conceivably put our house hunt to an end. While at the grocery store, my eyes fell upon some lovely veal cutlets that I just had to have - veal isn't always available at my local grocery store so when it is, I grab it and run to the checkout, quickly scooping up a bushel of fresh local basil like I was a participant in 'Guy's Grocery Games'. When considering what I was going to make for dinner, standing there in my kitchen staring at the veal cutlets and fresh basil sitting on my counter, I swear I heard the basil mutter, 'Ok genius...now what?'.
Veal is the meat of young calves, most commonly male calves, from dairy cows. The modern veal industry has strong connections with the dairy industry because to produce milk, cows must be lactating, and to be lactating, they must get pregnnt and give birth. Since only female cows produce milk, outside of breeding, the use of male calves is limited and, as such, are often the source of veal. In turn, the veal industry goes beyond the purchase of surplus male calves as it buys large amounts of milk by-products because almost 70% of veal feeds, by weight, are milk products. One industry supports the other.
In past years, veal farmers have come under a lot of scrutiny due to the housing of these young male calves but this scrutiny has led to many changes in the industry including raising bob veal, which are slaughtered 2-3 days after birth, raising calves as 'red veal' without the severity of dietary restrictions resulting in few antibiotics and lower calf mortality, and as dairy beef. There has also been an increase demand since 2008-2009 for 'free-raised' veal which is far more humane than the crating practice that was common only decades ago, and now banned in the UK. Unlike beef in general, hormone treatments on veal calves are not approved for any reason by the USDA, making veal meat a much healthier option for consumers.
Because veal is lower in fat than many meats, care must be taken to prepare it in such a manner as to ensure that it doesn't become tough. Typically this includes tenderizing the meat with a mallet, dredging it in flour and quick frying it, less than 2 minutes per side. Given that the veal I bought wasn't going to require a long cooking time, it was the obvious choice for our Dine and Dash meal.
I decided I was going to pound the veal cutlets in a plastic zipper lock baggie as thinly as I could without pulverizing it, dredge it in flour, dip in a whisked egg mixture, and then coat it with a simple bread crumb mixture seasoned with Italian seasoning. That whole process was going to take under 10 minutes to complete. I decided to make a pesto sauce out of the basil, toss some pasta shells in the pesto and on the side, mushrooms.
Pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy that traditionally consists of crushed garlic, basil and pine nuts blended with olive oil and Parmesan cheese. It dates back to ancient Roman times but basil, one of the main ingredients of modern pesto, likely originated in India where it was first domesticated. The word 'pesto' actually refers to the process of making the sauce by pounding and grinding the ingredients in a mortar using a pestle. Because pesto refers to the making as opposed to the ingredients, each family in Liguria often has it's own pesto recipe with slight differences to the traditional 'pesto alla Genovese' recipe. the first mention of which is in the book 'La Cuciniera Genovese', written in 1863. In French Provence, the dish evolved into the modern 'pistou' in which pine nuts are not included. In the US, it wasn't until 1944 that the New York Times mentioned an imported can of pesto paste and pesto really didn't become popular in North America until the 1980's and 1990's.
So...I had decided that I was going to cook the veal in a typical scallopini style, and do up a little pesto to toss some pasta shells with. Initially, I was just going to saute some cremini mushrooms on the side but then I thought, 'I haven't made Sherried Mushrooms' in awhile...I think I'm going to do that. Sherried Mushrooms take about 20-25 minutes from start to finish, so that's where I started on the meal. I heated a saute pan over medium high heat, added in a little olive oil and tossed in about 2 cups of quartered cremini mushrooms and let them saute, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. While they were sauteing, I pounded the veal cutlets, dredged them in flour seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, dipped them in 2 eggs that I whisked and coated the cutlets in a bread crumb mixture seasoned with Italian Seasoning. I then turned the heat on under a large pot of salted to water to bring that to a boil for my pasta.
When the 10 minutes of sauteing time was up for the mushrooms, my salted water was boiling so in went about 2 cups of pasta shells. I then added 1/3 cup of cream sherry to the mushrooms and 1 clove of garlic minced, reduced the heat and let the sherry simmer and reduce. While all that was happening, I added 2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves, 1/2 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese, 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil, 1/3 c. pine nuts, 3 cloves of garlic and some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste) into my food processor and pulsed that mixture until it was at the consistency I wanted. With 7 minutes left on the clock, I heated a large skillet over medium high heat, added in a tablespoon of olive oil and gave the breaded cutlets a quick sear on both sides for about 2 minutes per side. I removed the cutlets, placed them on a plate and tented the plate with aluminum foil. To the pan in which I cooked the veal, I added about 1 c. of no salt added chicken broth, brought that to a simmering boil, scraping up all the yummy brown bits, reduced the heat and added in a tablepoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of the pesto sauce. After draining my pasta and mixing it with about 3 Tbsp of the remaining pesto sauce, I squeezed the juice of 1/2 a lemon on the mushrooms, seasoned with a little sea salt and freshly ground pepper and then sprinkled in about a Tbsp. of chopped fresh Italian parsley. All that was left was the plating and eating!
I used store bought dry pasta shells for this meal due to the time restraints I was under but all those nooks and crannies made it perfect for picking up the flavours of the pesto sauce.
The earthieness of the mushrooms in the slightly sweet sherry sauce with a tinge of acidity from the lemon juice make Sherried Mushrooms one of my all time favorite ways to cook mushrooms!
After plating the veal, I spooned some of the Pesto Sauce over the top and gave both the Veal Scallopini in Pesto Sauce and Pesto Pasta Shells a generous sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The veal was tender and moist and the coating absorbed all of the wonderful flavours from the pesto sauce, heightening the overall flavour of the veal scallopini.
From start to finish, this meal was prepped, cooked and plated in under 30 minutes proving to myself once again that you don't have to sacrifice flavour and quality to achieve quick and easy! This plate came together in perfect harmony so much so that my youngest daughter Mackenzie said, "I think I get what you mean about umami mom...there's salty, sweet, tangy, savory and it all comes together to make your mouth just go 'wow'!". It was a proud mama moment!
I estimate the cost of this meal to be approximately $5.12 per person. Being low in fat, sodium and without the preservatives of take-away and pre-packaged meals certainly made it healitied-up.
Veal Scallopini in Pesto Sauce with Pesto Pasta Shells and Sherried Mushrooms...my idea of dining and dashing...easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!