The Run-Away little birds (Uccelletti Scappati)
This is one of the oldest (and easiest to prepare) recipe from Lombardy and Veneto. My mother (in truth, not a great cook, it was my dad the kitchen guy) used to prepare it for us – I suspect – mainly as an excuse to tell the story behind the name.
Story that – not so subtly – was meant to make fun of my dad and of men in general.
The story goes like this…. centuries ago, when most of the economy was farm based, in the countryside north of Milano (or any other farmland up north), Sunday was the quintessential family day: rest from work, church in the morning and a nice meal with roasted birds and potatoes.
And who was supposed the hunt for the birds in the forest ….? The man, of course, while the rest of family was preparing for dinner and carry out the house chores.
But … THERE IS ALWAYS A ‘BUT’ IN LIFE: the ladies of the house did not trust the hunting men: they brag, they show off, they puff-up BUT at the end of their hunting expeditions they came back – most times – WITH NO BIRDS (and ready to give all sort of incredible excuses).
And since the Ladies of the house knew it way too well, but also because they cared for the family dinner everybody was looking for, they – while waiting for the hunter to come back –‘secretly’ prepared the ‘run-away-little-birds’ dish: a roll of veal or pork filled with sage, cheese and pancetta or ham, TO LOOK LIKE AND TASTE LIKE ….. THE POOR LITTLE BIRDS ROASTED ON THE STICK THAT NEVER CAME, all, of course, artistically placed on a base of polenta or mash potatoes!
The Birds run away (due to the boasting ineptitude of the men, as my mom would point out) but the dinner was safe!
Here is the recipe, as I remember it (warning: you will find about a zillion variations of this receipt: in the old days people would argue more likely about what they believed to be the ‘real, right’ receipt, than politics!):
Thin tenderized veal, cut so that it could easily roll up, involtini style
Small chunks of cheese (example Fontina or any other solid tasty cheese), sage, a bit of ham or pancetta (I used ham)
Roll up the veal around the cheese, sage and ham and secure with a pair of thin wood toothpicks.
Sprinkle a bit of salt, pepper and oil on the involtini
Place the butter in the pan and before it starts fizzing, add some wine, about half a glass. I’ve used Repazzo Ripasso Terre di Leone, truly one of my favorite wines (deep and dense of flavour, rich of gentle seductive tannins). Never use second rate or passed wine to cook, please!
At mid-cooking, add a bit of flower, ground pepper and – if necessary – some hot water to maintain the right consistency of sauce.
Cover the pan, lower the heat for 5 minutes and …... THE BIRDS ARE BACK, THE DINNER IS SAFE AND THE MEN FORGIVEN!