My husband grew up with an Italian-American great-aunt who treated veal cutlets like a food group. While I never had the chance to visit the Staten Island home that played stage to so many of his early childhood memories, the stories he tells about her and his adventures in that house are as vivid as reality.
Stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey while clad in all of her jewelry — and hair still in curlers, mind you — is a popular one. As is his Uncle Joe slowly making a Manhattan drinker out of him by way of the cocktail shaker’s dividends topped with a heaping helping of 7Up. The most popular and recurring story I hear, though, is about the stash of cutlets she would keep in her basement chest freezer in quantities fit for the post-apocalypse.
So the story goes, every time the family came to visit, she’d take his little boy hand in her large, heavily jeweled lady-of-a-certain-age hand and they’d head to the Italian butcher down the street. Pork was a fine choice, but for special occasions none other than a dinner of veal cutlets and risotto would do. Back at the mansion, with her electric burner on high, Auntie’s paper-and-twine-wrapped bundle of meat would transform itself into a feast. His favorite part of the meal, being a short-attention-spanned child, was the etched crystal dish of Parmesan cheese passed at the table. It overflowed with freshly grated powder that would flurry over his dinner plate one demitasse spoonful at a time.
I only got to meet Auntie once before she passed several years ago, so I suffice to live her legacy vicariously through stories of her antics, relics of her Staten Island home and attempts at her famous veal cutlets.
Veal Cutlets with Peppery Braised Green Cabbage
For the cabbage:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 turnip, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon dill seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated
3 cups shredded green cabbage (from about half of a small head)
2 tablespoons bourbon or apple cider
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
1/2 firm apple, such as Gala or Cortland, grated
Salt and ground black pepper
For the cutlets:
1/2 cup flour, divided
2 eggs, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs or panko
1/2 cup grated cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, ricotta salata or dry Jack
1 pound veal cutlets
Salt and ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil, as needed
To prepare the cabbage, place a high-sided saute pan over medium heat with the olive oil. Add the shallot, turnip, dill seeds and mustard seeds to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, 1 minute. Add the cabbage and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to wilt, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the bourbon or cider, vinegar, syrup or honey, and some salt and pepper to the pan, then place a lid on it. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the apple, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and reserve warm.
While the cabbage is cooking, prepare the cutlets. Set up three wide, shallow dishes on a work surface. Fill the first with about 1/4 cup flour, in the second beat the eggs and water with the remaining 1/4 cup flour, and in the third combine the breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Season the cutlets with salt and pepper, then bread them by passing each first through the flour, then through the egg and finally through the breadcrumbs. Reserve the breaded cutlets in a single layer on a large plate or baking sheet.
Place a large saute pan over medium-high heat with enough oil to come about 1/4 inch up the side of the pan. Working in batches, fry the cutlets until golden brown on each side and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Reserve the cooked cutlets on a wire rack set over a baking sheet and continue frying the remaining batches.
Serve the cutlets immediately with the warm braised cabbage.
NOTE: Most of the alcohol in the bourbon will cook off when it is added to the pan, but if you’d rather not use alcohol, swap the liquid out for apple cider or chicken stock.
Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network & Cooking Channel stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Marc Forgione and Bobby Deen, he now works as a food writer and content producer in NYC by day and a recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following him on Twitter and Instagram at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website, patrickwdecker.com.