The veggie cutlet: evolution of an ancient food
The veggie cutlet: evolution of an ancient food
The veggie cutlet: evolution of an ancient food

How good are cutlets? They have long been one of the most popular party foods. They feature on all children’s menus and are the best way to please the little ones and let them enjoy a good veggie cutlet, accompanied, of course, by lots of vegetables or chips. But cutlets are also good in a nice sandwich, accompanied by fresh tomatoes and salad. Perfect to enjoy just warm for a quick and tasty lunch. 

But where did this delicious cutlet come from?  

The debate between Italians and Austrians over what came first - Milanese schnitzel or Wienerschnitzel - is a long one, although history seems to be on the side of the Italians. 

In fact, schnitzel was first mentioned in Pietro Verri’s tome “History of Milan”, where the author tells us that the first schnitzel was served on the feast day of San Siro in 1134 during a lunch among the canons of Sant’Ambrogio, who were the first to taste this delicious breaded slice. 

The origins of the recipe, therefore, are lost in time; so much so that one finds an instruction by medieval doctors to prepare the breaded cutlet with pure gold powder, to be used as a treatment for heart disease. The masses, who at the time could not really afford to enjoy pure gold on their plates, replaced the precious metal with bread, which turned golden brown during cooking. 

The original recipe speaks of a rather simple preparation: eggs and breadcrumbs for breading and then cooking in hot butter or lard. A book by the Renaissance cook Bartolomeo Scappi recommends combining it with a bitter orange and pumpkin sauce, seasoned with cinnamon. It will certainly smell good, but we do not guarantee that it will also taste good; after all, tastes may have changed since the Renaissance! 

There seems, therefore, to be little doubt: the schnitzel was born and bre(a)d in Italy but over time has been exported and imitated all over the world. It became so famous that it even earned a dedication in music by the famous Johann Strauss, who is said to have composed the cotolekt-polka: a dance celebrating the schnitzel by telling its history, divided between Austria and Italy. Unfortunately, the score of this music was burned after the artist’s death - who knows, perhaps by a burger fan who felt threatened by the success of the schnitzel! 

What is certain is that here we are really crazy about veggie schnitzels and enjoy them in many different and colourful dishes! Try them in a nice warm sandwich, accompanied by tomatoes and mesclun; or cut them into strips and add them to a big salad, to create a kind of all-vegetable Caesar salad. We have no favourites: the vegetable schnitzel really is a passe-partout in the kitchen!  

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