I've just finished another great Donna Leon mystery, A Sea of Troubles, and was inspired to fix one of the tempting dishes that Paola made for her family. Those lucky folks.
When the series hero, Commissario Brunetti, investigates the murder of two local fishermen on the island of Pellestrina, the small community closes ranks, forcing him to accept Signorina Elettra's (his boss's secretary) offer to visit her relatives there, to search for clues. No end of clues and life threatening danger, solved nicely by our intrepid investigator.
The dish that caught my fancy was a version of one of my favorites, Involtini Florentine, made with flank steak, and of course with a spinach stuffing. This one, Involtini di Vitello o Manzo con Carciofi, or Beef Rolls stuffed with artichokes and prosciutto. I cheated? and used fancy bottled artichokes, all nicely prepared. Just had to rinse, quarter and sprinkle them with lemon juice.
Happily, my Italian Slow and Savory cookbook, by Joyce Goldstein, had the recipe, which I followed, for a change, as given. With the exception of the artichoke shortcut mentioned above. The filling is so yummy, with tender artichoke hearts, prosciutto, garlic and parsley, not to mention a savory sauce, beef stock reduced, and enhanced with cream at the end, which I served over spiral pasta. A truly delicious meal.
Here in Hawaii we are provided a cut of beef, sliced thin for teriyaki, which works perfectly for rolling with stuffing. No need to pound them. Since most of us do not have a sous chef, this is a good thing.
Involtini di Vitello
from Italian Slow and Savory by Joyce Goldstein
1 lemon, halved
4 small artichokes
6 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 veal scallops or slices of beef round or top sirloin steak, about 1 1/2 lbs. total weight
2 tablespoons minced garlic
6 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
8 thin slices mortadella or prosciutto, cut the same size as the meat slices
1 1/2 cups beef, veal or chicken stock, or as needed
1 1/2 cups chopped, canned tomatoes (optional)
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, or 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional - I took this route instead of the tomatoes)
Squeeze the juice from the lemon halves into a bowl of cold water. Working with 1 artichoke at a time, remove all of the leaves, then trim away any dark green parts from the base, and trim the stem flush with the base. Cut lengthwise into quarters. Scoop out the prickly choke from each quarter with a spoon, or cut it out with a paring knife. As each artichoke is trimmed, add it to the lemon water.
In a large sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Drain the artichokes and add them to the pan along with a few spoonfuls of water. Cook, stirring often and adding water as needed to prevent scorching, until the artichokes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
One at a time, place the veal scallops or beef slices between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and, using a meat pounder, pound to an even thickness of 1/3 inch. In a bowl, stir together the garlic, parsley, lemon zest and a little salt and pepper until well mixed.
Lay a slice of mortadella or prosciutto on top of each piece of meat. Top each piece with 2 artichoke quarters and an equal amount of the garlic mixture. Roll up each piece of meat and skewer closed with toothpicks or tie securely at both ends with kitchen string.
In a large, deep sauté pan with a tight-fitting lid, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil over high heat. Add the rolls and sear on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Pour in 1 1/2 cups stock and the tomatoes (if using) and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook slowly, turning occasionally, until the meat is tender, about 40 minutes if using veal and up to 1 1/2 hours for beef. Check the liquid level from time to time and add more stock (or wine) if the mixture seems dry.
Transfer the rolls to a warmed platter and remove the toothpicks or snip the strings. Cover to keep warm. Raise the heat and reduce the pan juices until slightly thickened. If you have not added tomatoes, stir in the butter or cream. Spoon sauce over the meat rolls and serve at once with your favorite pasta.
This will be appearing around our house on a regular basis, just fabulous and not at all difficult, especially if you take the short-cuts I suggested.