A Mediterranean veal dinner

The following menu showcases the robust flavors of Mediterranean cuisines.

veal 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
veal 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After I have a dinner party, I sit down with the menu and make notes on lessons I learned for future meals. For a festive family dinner last week celebrating the visit of one of our Jerusalemite nieces, I prepared a main course of Italian-style veal in a tomato and herb sauce flavored with white wine, garlic and a hint of lemon. I served it with rice pilaf and a colorful mix of vegetables. The next time I cook this entree, I will divide the savory sauce in two and cook chicken in part of it, as an easy way to give a choice of meats. Our appetizer course was a big salad - a hybrid of Israeli salad and green salad topped with toasted nuts. To make the meal preparation faster and easier, I served packaged Israeli spreads as part of the first course - eggplant salad with mayonnaise (my niece's favorite) and humous topped with pine nuts, with a selection of fresh whole grain and crusty country breads and pitot. My husband suggested accompanying the salads with hard-boiled eggs, and this turned out to be a good idea. The following menu showcases the robust flavors of Mediterranean cuisines and is based on our dinner. It features a two-way Italian-sauced meat course, which is ideal for quick, light cooking. Make it with lean, tender, fast-cooking veal chops for an elegant entree or chicken breasts for an easier-to-find meat. Either meat gains a wonderful taste from the herb-accented tomato sauce. Alongside the meat you can serve orzo, or rice-shaped pasta, flavored with saffron and dotted with zucchini cubes. Orzo has a satisfying, almost creamy texture even when cooked with very little oil and makes a pleasing alternative to rice. For an extra side dish, cook any colorful combination of fresh seasonal vegetables. My guests enjoyed my medley of baby carrots, asparagus and broccoli, even though they were prepared as simply as possible - cooked in water. Using fresh vegetables, cooking them until just crisp-tender and removing them from the cooking liquid right away was the key to their appeal. As summer approaches, few sweet courses are more welcome than a fruit platter; ours had cherries, green- and orange-fleshed melons and watermelon. To keep preparation easy, you might like to augment the dessert course with a cake or cookies from a good bakery. VEAL CHOPS WITH TOMATO GARLIC SAGE SAUCE You can prepare this dish a day ahead. In fact, the meat gains flavor from sitting in its sauce. Adding part of the garlic and sage to the sauce at the last minute, along with grated lemon zest and parsley, gives it extra pizzazz. To save time, chop the garlic and parsley in a mini food processor. To prepare this entree with chicken breasts instead of veal, see the note below. If you prefer, divide the sauce between two pans and cook veal chops in one and chicken in the other. 4 veal chops, about 225 gr. each, about 2 cm. to 2.5 cm. thick salt and freshly ground pepper 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 1 small onion, chopped 4 garlic cloves, minced 1⁄3 cup dry white wine (optional) an 800-gr. can tomatoes, drained and chopped 1⁄3 cup meat or chicken broth 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage or 1 tsp. dried, crumbled cayenne pepper to taste (optional) 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley 1⁄2 tsp. grated lemon zest Trim visible fat from chops. Pat dry. Sprinkle veal on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy large saute pan or skillet. Add veal and brown it over medium-high heat, in batches if necessary, taking about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Add onion to pan and saute about 5 minutes over medium heat. Set aside half the garlic to add at the end. Stir remaining garlic into onions, then add wine and bring to a boil. Add tomatoes and broth, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Return veal to skillet with any juices on plate and bring to a simmer. Add salt, pepper and half the sage. Cover and cook over low heat for 7 to 10 minutes per side or until veal is tender and cooked to your taste; meat should be white or light pink. Add a little cayenne pepper to the sauce. Just before serving, add remaining garlic and sage to sauce, then add grated lemon zest and parsley. Taste, adjust seasoning, and serve. Makes 4 servings. NOTE: CHICKEN BREASTS WITH TOMATO GARLIC SAGE SAUCE Use 4 chicken breast halves with skin and bones. Brown as above, taking 2 or 3 minutes per side. Braise chicken in the sauce about 10 minutes per side or until meat is no longer pink when cut in thickest part. ORZO WITH SAFFRON AND ZUCCHINI Chicken broth and a touch of oil give this orzo dish a rich flavor. Since zucchini cooks rapidly, you can add it to the pot when the orzo is half cooked to gain an extra vegetable. 1 Tbsp. olive oil 1⁄2 medium onion, chopped 11⁄3 cups orzo or riso (rice-shaped pasta) 22⁄3 cups chicken broth, or broth mixed with water 1⁄8 tsp. saffron threads 2 medium zucchini, diced small salt and freshly ground pepper Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Add onion and saute about 5 minutes over medium heat. Add orzo and cook over low heat, stirring, 1 minute. Add broth and saffron, stir and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for 8 minutes. Scatter zucchini on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook about 7 minutes or until orzo is just tender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Makes 4 servings. BABY LETTUCE AND DICED VEGETABLE SALAD WITH TOASTED WALNUTS When I make salads a couple of hours in advance, I add tomatoes and dressing elements just before serving so the tomatoes won't become watery and the greens won't wilt. 2 to 4 cups mixed baby lettuces or chopped romaine 2 slim cucumbers, diced 1 small sweet orange or red pepper, diced 1 green onion, chopped 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley (optional) 2 tomatoes, diced 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil 2 tsp. strained, fresh squeezed lemon juice or white wine vinegar salt and freshly ground pepper 3 to 4 Tbsp. toasted walnuts (see Note) If greens are not already rinsed, rinse them and dry thoroughly. Transfer to a bowl. Add cucumbers, sweet pepper, green onion and parsley. Just before serving, add tomato, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Toss thoroughly, top with nuts and serve. Makes 4 servings. Note: To toast walnuts: Put walnut halves or pieces in a preheated oven or toaster oven at 180º. Toast for 4 minutes, stir and toast for 3 to 5 minutes longer, or until fragrant. Transfer to a plate to cool. Faye Levy is the author of 30 Low-Fat Meals in 30 Minutes.