Ask Chef Phyllis:
My parents attended the New York World’s Fair in 1939. It might have been part of a honeymoon trip that they never forgot. They both lived into their 80s and talked about the event as though it were yesterday. Their favorite memory was one of eating veal piccata with a bottle of wine in a little sit-down, white-linen Italian restaurant at the foreign countries foods’ pavilion. The cost of the meal, including wine, was under five dollars. I don’t know if that was really inexpensive. Nonetheless, it was a special occasion for them, and the World’s Fair was the experience of a lifetime! Can this be true? Do any such recipes exist? Would it be possible to get a recipe?
—John Spencer Nealy, Marblehead, MA
What an interesting story! As soon as you wrote in, I did some research. It’s all true. Many recipes exist—you just have to know where to find them. Veal piccata was served at the 1937 Paris Exposition, the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and the 1958 Brussels Exposition, and the recipes vary only slightly. The one that I’ve included here is the same veal piccata served at the Italian Pavilion during the 1939 World’s Fair, where it was listed the menu as “Piccata di vitello Exposizione di New York 1939.” I found it in this wonderful cookbook, Luigi Carnacina’s Great Italian Cooking: La Grande Cucina Internazionale. Unfortunately, I could find no records of the wines served. Prices for this dish varied from $1.75 to about $2.50 per entrée, with wine included at the 1939 fair. At least 40 vendors on the fairway with open-air kiosks provided cheaper fast foods: oysters on the half shelf, hot dogs, and ice cream cones could all be had for under 10 cents. (You can take a food tour of the World’s Fair here.)
3 baked potatoes
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 to 3 white truffles, chopped
6 cooked artichoke hearts, halved
Unbleached flour for dusting (optional)
2 eggs, beaten
18 round veal scallops, sliced ¼-inch thick and pounded into thin 3-inch rounds
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ lb. brown or white button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
¼ cup fresh sage leaves or 2 teaspoons dried sage
⅓ cup brandy
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Capers for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 200°F. Carefully scoop the potato pulp out of the skins and into a bowl. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and a little freshly ground black pepper. Add 4 tablespoons of the butter and the chopped truffles, then mix thoroughly.
2. Form potato mixture into small 3-inch round cakes (the same size as the pounded-out veal scallops). In a large frying pan set over medium-high heat, brown potato cakes in 3 tablespoons of the butter. Remove and keep warm in the oven.
3. Melt 5 more tablespoons of butter in the frying pan. Dust the artichoke hearts in flour if you like, then dip into the beaten eggs. Drop them immediately into the pan. When golden brown on both sides, place them in the oven with the potato cakes.
4. Add remaining butter to the pan. Season the veal scallops with salt and pepper, then quickly brown them a few at a time, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to the center of a hot platter and keep warm.
5. If necessary, add a little olive oil to the pan, and then add the mushrooms, garlic, and sage. Sauté on high heat until golden brown.
6. Carefully add brandy to the pan, and reduce heat. Pour the mushroom and brandy sauce over the veal.
7. Arrange the potato cakes in a circle around the veal, and top them with a few artichoke pieces. Garnish with the capers if desired. Serve immediately with your favorite white wine.
Photo Credit: stu_spivack