veal escalopes and creamed spinach

when my dad wanted to call my mum soft and bourgeois (she was honest intelligentsia; he was peasant; we just needed some workers to start a communist revolution), he accused her of spending her childhood having creamed spinach and veal escalopes cooked for her. these two things were like some magic twin deities of the land of milk and honey inhabited by spoilt children, possibly rivaled only by the homemade potato chips fried by my granny in a small enamel pan full of sunflower oil. for him, who grew up quite literally hungry, a child of the second world war, the idea of sitting by warm tiled stoves, drinking milk and eating veal with spinach must have been the ultimate indulgence.

veal and spinach was the kind of food everyone liked. even my brother, known for his fussy eating, would relent when granny took the meat basher out and started pounding the escalopes. she dipped them in egg and flour, which i don’t do. a dusting of floor is hardly going to send your insulin levels soaring but i've always been a bit suspicious of coating the meat with anything: i hate gristle and you could never tell if there was a bit of gristly meat hiding under the crispy batter.

it was definitely fast food of sorts – it could all be done in ten minutes if you had some veg and bread to go with it (always bread - it doesn't count as proper food unless there is bread).

as for the spinach, creaming it may seem like hassle but it's worth it. generally speaking, i like spinach plain, steamed for a minute or so or chucked in a pan with a tiny bit of butter or olive oil. in fact, i like all my vegetables pretty plain - i don't often see the need for torturing them with sauces or transforming them into something unrecognisable. so i wouldn't bother creaming spinach every day. but for some reason, the addition of creme fraiche and the garlic does make the whole exercise worthwhile every now and again, when you fancy a bit of a quick comfort food.

for two

400-500g spinach leaves
1/2 clove of garlic, crushed
salt and pepper
knob of butter

wash the spinach and drain thoroughly. melt the butter in a large pan and when it's warm, put in the spinach. cook for a minute until it's starting to wilt - you'll have to stir it around a bit to get the bits from the top to get in contact with the bottom of the pan. then add the garlic and cook for another minute or two, until the spinach is totally collapsed. you're not really looking to fry anything, just sweat the garlic gently. the stir in the creme fraiche and take it off the heat, then whizz in a food processor if you want a smooth mass.

i actually did it the longer way, mainly because i couldn't be bothered to get the blender out of the cupboard. so i blanched the spinach and then squeezed out as much water out of it as possible with my hands. i then chopped it very finely before returning to the pan with the butter and garlic. there's something quite therapeutic about chopping up the dark green block of spinach, first vertically, then horizontally, then diagonally. but maybe that's just me.

we fried the veal chops - they had been pre-bashed by the butcher so only take 2 minutes on each side to cook. while they're resting on the plate, the pan gets de-glazed with a mixture of lemon juice, a bit of water and a tiny bit of white wine left over from last night (about a quarter of a glass, if that). there are lots of caramelised bits at the bottom of the pan and the thin savoury gravy is very tasty as a result.

oh, and we have purple-sprouting broccoli. again.


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