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My First Taste of Italy: Cutlets, Avocado & Cream

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When I wrote about how to spend the day in Italy while not leaving Houston, I constantly reminisced about my summer in Florence. Luckily, my mom and I were able to explore Florence together a couple days before my study abroad program began, and the first meal we had was the best meal we had.

After being diverted to the itsy bitsy airport in Bologna and waiting several hours for another flight to our destination, only to be placed on a bus, we finally arrived in the beautiful city of Firenze and were starving. We dropped off our bags in our room and headed downstairs to ask the concierge where we should eat. He told us to go to, "Gaaaargani." We wandered down cobblestone streets as the sun began to set, then as we smelled the delicious scent of pasta, olive oil and bread, we knew we were getting close.

The happy-go-lucky waiter generously welcomed us into the trattoria, and sat us at a two-top facing the quiet and tranquil street. We split the bruschetta, two slices of crusty Italian bread topped with slightly crushed tomatoes, shredded basil leaves and Extra Virgin olive oil. During this time, I was intrigued with pink peppercorns and ordered the shrimp with pink peppercorns and a cream sauce, but I should have ordered what my mom ate, scallopine di vitello all'avocado, veal cutlets with avocado and truffle cream.

Two veal cutlets are cooked in a cognac truffle cream sauce, then topped with super thin slices of avocado. There are three components to this dish and one bite of each is marvelous -- tender veal with a thick creamy truffle sauce and smooth, luscious avocado. As I took a bite of my mother's dinner that evening, I remember thinking to myself, "I just entered culinary heaven."

My mother returned to America and immediately researched Trattoria Gargani; not only did she find raving reviews about diners' experiences, but she also found the recipe for the veal and avocado dish from Saveur magazine.

I know many of you don't eat veal and that is perfectly fine. The key to making this dish taste outstanding is to use an extremely thin cut of meat (about ¼ inch thick), be it pork, chicken, lamb or even skirt steak.

All-in-all it's an incredible simple dish to make -- as is the way with most Italian dishes. Forewarning, the recipe calls for flambeing cognac, check out these precautions and guidelines to flambeing before attempting to do so.

Heat a large skillet (I used a cast-iron skillet) with tall sides. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan, followed by a drizzle of olive oil to coat the pan -- this will ensure the butter doesn't burn since oil has a higher smoke point than butter. Season four cutlets with salt, then sear on both sides in the skillet for about 30 to 60 seconds per side. Once the cutlets are browned and almost cooked through, remove them from the pan and place on a plate.

Now is the time to add the cognac.

Carefully pour 2 tablespoons of cognac into a separate cup; do not pour the liqueur from the bottle. Pour the cognac into the pan, then ignite with either a kitchen match, or a long-stem lighter. Make sure you have a pan lid nearby in case the fire gets out of control. Cook the cognac in the pan until the flames subside, which should take no more than 30 seconds.

The first time I prepared this dish, I followed through with the flambe, even though it was my first time to do so. As cool as it was, I have to admit it was the most scared I have ever been while cooking. So, if you are able to flambe a dish without that fear, by all means, do so -- but do so carefully.

If you do not want to flambe the alcohol, you have two options: nix the cognac, or decrease the amount and nix the flame. In fact, according to Modernist Cuisine, Volume 2: Techniques and Equipment, when you don't use flames on alcohol, you preserve the natural taste of the liqueur, which increases the flavor of the overall dish. The authors of the Modernist Cuisine write, "Chefs flame the contents of their saute pans to burn off raw alcohol and adjust the flavor. We rather like that raw taste and do not take that step. Choose the approach that suits you."

Next, add 1 cup of heavy cream, 1 teaspoon of white truffle oil and the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter (no one said this dish was healthy). Cook the sauce for about three minutes, or until it passes the thickness test -- dip the back of a wooden spatula into the sauce, then run your finger across the spoon in a straight line; if the sauce holds and doesn't run down the spoon, then it is thick enough. Place the cutlets back into the sauce and cook until the meat is hot again.

Halve and pit one ripe avocado, and thinly slice. Place the avocado on top of the cutlets, season with pepper and serve.

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