Good Friends, a Beautiful Garden and Veal Milanese

True friendships are rare treasures that withstand the test of time and distance. This past weekend, eight of my friends met for a girls’ weekend in New York.

The arrivals began as early as Thursday afternoon and the departures started at 6am Sunday morning.

Over several great meals, we caught up on now and reminisced on then. Mostly, there was a lot of laughing, a lot of drinking, a lot of eating and a little singing. Only two of us live in New York. The rest traveled from Los Angeles, Vermont, Boston. and Connecticut.

The restaurants ranged from uber chic to dirty diner. From downtown to the upper west side. And while not the trendiest, I was most happy to share with my friends my favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant, Bello Giardino. The place isn’t much to look at from the street – a small store front just east of Columbus Avenue on 71st Street. The Tuscan themed dining room is just down a few stairs. It’s clean and well-lit and unlike so many restaurants, the tables aren’t crammed together. The owner, Nick, is always there to greet his guests at the door.

None of that separates it from the 1,000 or so small Italian places in New York. But, when you pass through the restaurant, by the kitchen and the restrooms, there is a beautiful garden underneath a canopy of grapevines. It was about 1,000 degrees and muggy Saturday night, but the nine if us sat centerstage at a table in the secret back garden.

I always order the same thing….Veal Milanese. It comes with a side of Bow Tie pasta and instead of the traditional marinara sauce, I ask for the vodka sauce – best in town.

I’ve tried to mimic this at home…here’s what I do….

Veal Milanese

–     4 thinly pounded veal cutlets

·      Panko bread  crumbs – about 1 1/2 cups – 2 cups

·      1 tsp Italian Seasoning – or any combination of dried oregano, dried thyme, dried rosemary, dried sage
·      1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard
·      2 Eggs
·      1 cup all purpose flour
·      Extra Virgin Olive Oil
·      2 tablespoons Butter
·      Two Roma or small tomatoes diced
·      Arugula – two handfuls
·      Lemon
·      Salt and Pepper
1.   Heat a large skillet over Medium-High heat with a 3-count of good olive oil and 2-3 tablespoons of butter
2.   In three bowls, prepare your breading:
      a.   Bowl one – 1 cup of all purpose flour
      b.   Bowl two – mix together 2 eggs beaten + 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
      c.   Bowl three – mix together 2 cups of Panko breadcrumbs + 1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
3.   Pat the veal cutlets dry and season both sides with salt and pepper
4.   Dredge each cutlet first in the flour, then in the egg/mustard mix, then in the panko/italian seasoning mix
5.   Once the Olive Oil is shimmering in your skillet, add the breaded veal cutlets and cook about 4 minutes on each side.
6.   While the cutlets are frying, chop the arugula and combine with the diced tomatoes and the juice of ½ lemon. Set aside
7.   Remove the fried cutlets from the skillet and plate with a generous serving of the arugula / tomato mixture served on top
Note:         If you like spicy foods….you can add a dash of hot sauce to the egg/mustard mixture or use a spicy mustard
         You can also add sliced red onion to the arugula/tomato mixture

Ultimately, it didn’t matter where or what my friends and I ate. Through a quiet restaurant, down a narrow hallway, there’s a door that leads to a beautiful, Tuscan garden. I have known these amazing women for 30+ years. Our friendships endure because each of us sees in the others her own Bello Giardino. Maybe Stephen King said it best, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”