Cacio e pepe, Sicilian-style
There are few things that delight me more than the unexpected dinner party among close friends (though planned dinner parties come close), so when L told me while shopping that her husband wouldn’t be finished his round of golf until 8:30, I knew a dinner invitation was in order. It’s become a tradition of sorts–when she finds herself on her own for dinner, whether during the week or on the weekend, we usually urge her to come over to our place as we tend to make too much food anyway. For this meal, we made more than enough to feed six; fortunately for us, that meant we’d have leftovers for at least three days.
The menu that night was simple: breaded veal cutlets as an appetizer, and cacio e pepe along with sauteed leeks and fennel for the main course, all inspired (at least in part) by an article I read a few months ago in the Times that extolled the delights of Roman trattorias and the simple pastas that are part of the experience. Never one to pass up a chance to combine pasta and cheese together, I set off to Romeo’s to get what I needed. The traditional dish calls for pecorino romano, but all Romeo had was pecorino siciliano–but it was riddled with whole black peppercorns. Perfetto. Having bought a half-pound of that, two boxes of pasta (because we were hungry), along with some veal cutlets, fennel and leeks, it was time to start cooking.
Veal breading station
Michael was in charge of the veal, and he saw it as a way to atone for some less-than-stellar (in his mind, anyway) veal cutlets we’ve had in the past. In the interest of trying something new, I suggested using some rosemary along with panko breadcrumbs instead of regular old Italian-style ones, with the thought that they would pair more effectively with the veal. Using panko also mitigates guilt in using store-bought crumbs at all, given how difficult it is to make them on your own. Don’t believe me? Look for the episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown attempts to make them in his kitchen. Bottom line: if he suggests buying them from the store, you know that it’s not worth the time and aggravation to do it yourself. If you’re hoping to save some money, also make a point of buying in bulk–I bought a big bag at Whole Foods for much less than buying a box at a normal grocery store.
This ended up being the perfect way to have a little meat in an otherwise grain, cheese and veggie-heavy meal, and when sprinkled with a little lemon juice, these cutlets seem to sing in our mouths.
The pasta, fortunately, could not be more simple to do–this is a great dish to get your kids in the kitchen, and it’s also a wonderful dish to entertain with thanks to its short ingredient list and even shorter instructions. Follow me after the jump to find my take on this classic, as well as see Michael’s finished cutlets: Read More