The literal translation of saltimbocca is “jump in the mouth”—yes, that is really what they do once the plate is placed in front of you. You’ll eat them in a single bite; they are irresistible.
The simple dish of veal cutlets, prosciutto, and sage is believed to hail from Brescia, but now is a fixture on many Roman trattoria menus, as well as a staple of effortless home cooking. That’s why I find it a genius recipe.
You’ll need toothpicks, to hold the ingredients together, and a large pan will come in handy, as you’ll be able to cook all the saltimbocca in one go!
The veal must be thinly sliced, as it will cook just for a couple of minutes in the pan. Should your slices be too thick, you can pound them with a mallet until very thin and tenderized. I’ve made saltimbocca even with thin slices of chicken breast, and the recipe works just as well. Just be sure to cook the chicken a couple of minutes more, until nicely browned.
Usually, I suggest not cooking with prosciutto crudo for a few reasons: First of all, I prefer to have it as it is, uncooked, to preserve its taste and its texture. Second, buying a good artisanal prosciutto crudo is expensive, so cooking with it is a shame. Third, it usually becomes rubbery and extremely salty once cooked. But saltimbocca alla Romana might be the exception, as it calls for cooking the prosciutto for such a brief time that it remains delicate and soft. My only advice is to not splurge on the best prosciutto crudo—leave that for a quick lunch with mozzarella and grilled vegetables—and opt for an average, supermarket variety. It will do.
As you’ll notice, I cooking the saltimbocca with butter. I had to talk my inner Tuscan self into using butter instead of extra virgin olive oil, which I typically automatically reach for whenever I cook meat. I did not regret it. Please have some bread ready to mop up the juices.
Ada Boni suggests serving the saltimbocca with a generous side of green beans, peas, artichokes, asparagus, or potatoes.
Serves 4 to 6
- 8 thin slices veal (or chicken breast), about 12 ounces
- 4 big slices prosciutto crudo, about 3 ounces
- 8 fresh sage leaves
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter, divided
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons water
Arrange the veal slices on a cutting board. Top each slice with half a slice of prosciutto, then put the sage leaf on top. Secure with a toothpick, as if you’re pinning two pieces of fabric together. Don’t roll them up.
Melt half of the butter in a very large pan over medium-high heat. When it starts to sizzle, add the veal slices. Don’t overcrowd them in the pan. If the pan is too small to fit them all, fry them in batches.
Brown the slices on both sides for just a couple of minutes, just until they start to change color. Transfer to a warmed serving plate, then finish cooking the rest.
Lightly season the saltimbocca with salt and pepper; remember that prosciutto crudo is already quite salty.
Add the remaining butter into the pan, along with the water. Scrape the pan with a wooden spatula and cook over medium-high heat until the butter has melted into a smooth, caramel-colored sauce.
Pour the sauce over the saltimbocca and serve immediately.
Adapted from “Italian Regional Cooking” by Ada Boni