Dining with Lady Elinor in Rome

Next week, on November 4 to be precise, Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventures will make its debut. To whet your appetite, I thought I would write about something Our Heroine might have eaten while she was off having her adventures.

Lady Elinor and her family exist in the middle of the 19th century, not a high point of English cuisine. But they left boiled mutton behind when they set off on their travels. What would they have eaten in Rome? I wondered, so I went hunting for 19th century Italian cookbooks.

I soon discovered what is generally considered the first Italian cookbook, as opposed to Roman or Sicilian or Ligurian or Tuscan or any other region. It is Pellegrino Artusi’s La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene.  In English, it’s often shortened to The Art of Eating Well.

Artusi wasn’t a cook, just a wealthy businessman who liked to eat. Since he was born in 1820, he was only a bit older than my hero and heroine, so they would have dined on similar meals.

To my surprise, many of his recipes are for dishes you can still find in your favorite Italian restaurant, and his directions are easy enough to follow. What makes the book a pleasure to read is his commentary. He tells you where he ate the dish, or something special about the cook, or even how easy it is to digest.

Consider this recipe:

Saltimbocca alla Romana

I’ve eaten these in Rome, in the trattoria Le Venete, and can therefore describe them exactly.

They’re veal cutlets, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, Each cutlet has half a leaf of sage (one would be too much) and a slice of prosciutto placed on top of it. They’re skewered with toothpicks to hold them together and sauteed in butter, the side with the prosciutto being cooked less to keep it from toughening. As you can see, it’s a simple, healthy dish.

Two thirds of a pound of veal will yeild 11 or 12 cutlets and will serve three to four people.

The slices should be half a finger high; pound them with the flat of a knife before preparing them. 


I suspect that what I like so much about this recipe is that the first time I ate saltimbocca was in a trattoria in Rome, on the Aventine. I was with my husband, we were on our honeymoon, and this was our first meal in Rome. Can you imagine anything better?

I’ve often made saltimbocca since—the name means “leap in the mouth”—but not quite as I had it in Rome. For one thing, at that restaurant it was made with veal tenderloin, not a cut of meat available at my local supermarket. (I tried to find it online one time and almost passed out at the price.)

However, I have found that pork tenderloin makes an excellent substitute. Mr. Artusi's directions work perfectly well, though if you pound the prosciutto onto the cutlet, no toothpick is needed. I deglaze the pan for a bit of sauce—you can use white wine or broth or marsala or even water.

It's as delicious in reality as in memory.

Are there any meals that you remember as special for more than just the food?


Well, now I want to go to

Well, now I want to go to Rome--more so than I did before, I mean :)

And I would love to go back!

And I would love to go back!

My mouth is watering! Sounds

My mouth is watering! Sounds delicious.

It is, June, and remarkably

It is, June, and remarkably quick and easy—if you happen to have prosciutto, fresh sage and pork tenderloin on hand.


Oh, this is wonderful, Lillian. Part of my family hales from Abruzzo, but it was all pasta, red sauce, and ground meat growing up. I suppose it was that hefty price tag on the cutlets and Grandma having to feed a husband and six hardy boys!

Ground meat is a great way to

Ground meat is a great way to economize, isn't it? A pound makes a hearty, meaty sauce for eight people, but kind of skimpy hamburgers..


Years ago, Lil, my husband and I went to a dinner in Barcelona with about a dozen other people from all over the world. There were about as many languages spoken, but we had a great time since everyone shared their food choices and everyone translated for each other. Crazy but memorable!

Now I want to go to

Now I want to go to Barcelona.

As a Sicilian... I have many,

As a Sicilian... I have many, many fond food memories. Somehow, they all center around preparing them rather than eating them - though eating them was heavenly. My greatest food memory is of our typical Sunday afternoon meal. We'd sit to eat at noon and no one would rise from the table until at least 2 or 3. My mom and my grandmother would do all the cooking and baking that morning, together, with all of us - anyone who entered the space - given a job of either chopping or washing or stirring the pot of tomato sauce. I can still smell it all and I can still hear the busy, serious and silly, chatter of everyone involved.

Thanks for this post, Lil. It brought back a whole world of wonderful memories.

Cooking as a family activity

Cooking as a family activity is wonderful, isn't it? One of the reasons I love Christmas cookies so much is that I have such wonderful memories of making them with my mother and sister, and later on with my children.


I made this a few months ago. So yummy and easy!

Yummy, easy, and it really

Yummy, easy, and it really impresses people. Who could ask for more. ;-)

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