Stuffed veal breast can be found in many regions, but the Genovese preparation, cima alla Genovese, is one of the most distinctive and delicious. It is one of my favorite Ligurian dishes, and whenever I am in Genova I seek it out at the local restaurants. Traditionally, it is a specialty of late spring and summer, because in the natural cycle, calves are mostly birthed in early spring, and the veal will be most tender within the next few months. Appropriately for a summer dish, cima alla Genovese is served at room temperature, accompanied by fresh salsa verde. Here, though, I give you my home version of cima, one that I prepare all year around, whenever I want something special (and convenient) to delight lots of people. Because veal breast of appropriate size can be hard to find, I use veal shoulder and sometimes turkey breast butterflied and flattened. I wrap the meat around a colorful filling: a big frittata with a medley of vegetables and a row of hard- cooked eggs. Poached in a log shape, the cima cools before it is sliced for serving. It is still always exciting for me (and will be for you) as each slice is revealed, the filling ingredients forming a unique mosaic within a frame of moist, tender meat. The convenience of cima I also love. I can assemble the stuffed veal the night before, cook it early in the morning, and let it rest. Uncut, the roll keeps well (even for several days) and can be served whenever needed, without further cooking. In summer, it makes a fine al fresco lunch or dinner, or a picnic centerpiece. At holiday times, nothing is more beautiful on a buffet. And when there are guests in the house, I serve it at dinner and leave the rest as an elegant, anytime snack.
4 to 5 pound veal shoulder roast
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups onions, sliced in 1/4 inch thick half moons
1 cup carrot matchsticks, 3 icnhes long and 1/4 inch thick
2 cups zucchini matchsticks, 3 inches long and 1/4 inch thick
1 cup red bell pepper strips, 3 inches long and 1/4 inch thick
1½ tablespoons kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
4 cups tender spinach leaves, loosely packed
6 large eggs, for the frittata
½ cup Grana Padano, or Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
½ cup milk
For the Poaching Pot
1 medium onion, cut in chunks
1 medium carrot, cut in chunks
1 medium stalk celery, cut in chunks
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
⅓ cup kosher salt
1½ cups Salsa verde, (See recipe for Salsa Verde)
Recommended equipment: A sharp, long- bladed knife for butterflying the meat; a meat mallet; a heavy- bottomed nonstick skillet or sauté pan, 12- inch diameter; kitchen twine; cheesecloth sheet, 3 feet long and 2 feet wide, double thickness; a wide, heavy saucepan, preferably an oval- shaped cast- iron French oven, 5- to- 7- quart capacity, with a cover.
To prepare the veal: Cut the strings or netting if the roast is tied (as it usually is), and lay out the meat in a slab. Trim off excess fat on both sides and any membranes or silver skin that cover the muscles.
Turn the slab so the inside (where bones have been removed) faces up-it will be a rough rectangle of uneven thickness. The next step, butterflying, will enlarge and even out the slab to a nearly square sheet of meat of even thinness.
With a long, sharp knife, slice into the thickest part of the meat, cutting from the middle of the slab toward the edge almost all the way through-then open up the flap you've created, like opening a book. Pound the butterflied section of meat to even it out. In the same way, butterfly portions of meat on other parts of the slab to spread and thin the veal, pounding each section after you slice and unfold it. Butterfly small mounds of thick muscle where necessary to thin it, or if a hole opens in the sheet-butterfly an adjacent portion of meat and use the flap to cover the hole. Continue the gradual butterflying until the veal is about 16 inches on the long sides and about 12 inches on the short edges-roughly square and about 1/2 inch thick. Cover the veal with plastic wrap while you prepare the stuffing frittata.
Pour the olive oil into the skillet, and set over medium- high heat. Toss in the sliced onions and carrot matchsticks; stir and cook for a couple of minutes, until sizzling, then toss in the zucchini and red- pepper strips. Sprinkle on 1/2 teaspoon of salt and several grinds of black pepper, and cook, stirring and tossing, for 5 minutes, until the vegetables are lightly caramelized but still al dente. Scatter in the peas and the spinach leaves, turning them over with the other vegetables until they start to wilt and release their liquid. Continue to cook the vegetables, stirring frequently, until the excess water in the pan has evaporated.
Meanwhile, beat the raw eggs with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, then whisk in the grated cheese and milk. When the spinach is cooked and dry, pour the egg mixture into the skillet. Cook, turning and scrambling the eggs with the vegetables, until the curds set but still a bit wet and glistening. Remove the pan from the heat, and let cool briefly.
Uncover the flattened veal sheet, and season the top with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread the vegetable frittata in an even mound the length of the veal, leaving several inches of the meat uncovered on both long sides, and an inch or so on the ends, to form flaps. Arrange the frittata so the vegetable sticks are distributed evenly and somewhat aligned lengthwise to give a mosaic effect when you slice the cooked roll. Set the hard- boiled eggs in a line nestled in the vegetable frittata. Again, for the prettiest cross- section, align the eggs end to end. (If you can't fit in all the hard-cooked eggs, enjoy any extras in another dish!)
Fold one long flap of the veal over the filling, then the other, enclosing the eggs in a long oval. Starting at one end, tie the veal closed with loops of twine, spaced about 3 inches apart: use one long piece of twine to form a connected series of loops, or make several tight loops, to secure the roll all along its length. Tuck the open ends of the veal against the roll, and tie another length of twine lengthwise around it, so it is completely closed.
Spread out the cheesecloth, set the meat on one of the short edges, and roll it up tightly in the cloth. Twist the cloth on each end of the roll-like a candy wrapper, tightening it up against the meat-and secure the twisted ends with twine. (If there's lots of excess cheesecloth on the ends, cut it off.) Finally, tie three or four tight loops around the cloth- wrapped roll along its length, further compacting and securing it.
To poach the veal: Drop the chunks of onion, carrot, and celery, the bay leaves, and the 1/3 cup salt in the big saucepan, and set the tied roll on top. Pour in enough cold water to submerge the meat completely, cover the pot, and heat the poaching liquid to a gentle boil. Adjust the heat to maintain a steady, gentle bubbling, and let the veal cook, tightly covered, for 2 hours. The meat should remain completely covered while it cooks gently. Rotate the roll carefully in the pot once or twice, add water if necessary, and adjust the heat as needed.
Turn off the heat after 2 hours, and lift the roll out of the poaching liquid (use tongs to grasp the twisted ends). Let the water drain off, then set the veal on a wide sheet pan or cutting board on an even surface. Place another sheet pan on top of the meat, and weight it down with your big saucepan (you can discard the poaching liquid first) or heavy cans or other objects. Center the weights atop the veal roll so it is evenly compacted.
Keep the veal pressed for an hour or longer, until it cools to room temperature. Remove the weights, and pour off any liquid that has collected in the pan. Cut off the outer twine, and carefully unwrap the cheesecloth from around the meat; snip the inner loops of twine and remove it all. Transfer the veal to a cutting board, taking care to keep it intact.
When you're ready to serve, slice the veal crosswise with a sharp knife, first cutting off one of the meaty end pieces (tomorrow's treat!), until you expose the colorful mosaic of stuffing. Slice as many pieces of cima as you'll serve-I like them about 2/3 inch thick-and arrange them overlapping on a platter. Or present individual portions, a slice or two on each plate, with spoonfuls of Salsa Verde alongside. Have bowls or goblets of Salsa Verde at the table, too.