Chef Alicia Cutchin is grateful for the mentors she’s had through the years. Cutchin, the executive chef at Cafe Otis in Norwich, mentions one, chef Greg Fatagati of Fatagati’s Fresh Pasta in Newport, Rhode Island, who taught her how to transform dishes into works of art. “He taught me how to make fresh pasta and how to utilize special ingredients to turn ordinary comfort food into spectacular dishes bursting with flavor,” says Cutchin, a Johnson & Wales graduate.
Those teachings are reflected in Cutchin’s saltimbocca meatballs in pomodoro sauce, a palate-pleasing comfort food (saltimbocca loosely translates to “jumps in the mouth” in Italian) featuring fresh aromatics and prosciutto. Cutchin says it’s excellent for lunch or dinner, or even breakfast. “It will fill your kitchen with deep aromas of garlic, onion, prosciutto, tomatoes and basil, especially on a rainy April day, yet the sauce is light enough. Sometimes I eat it cold for breakfast — it’s that good,” she says.
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For Cutchin, cooking is having the right mind-set and putting her heart and soul into her creations, something another mentor taught her. “As Grams Dolores, my maternal grandmother, used to say: to make it extra special and delicious you need to ‘put your foot into it.’ It’s an African-American idiom that means put your best effort into cooking … all the way down to your toes. It’s a compliment reserved for excellent cooking,” Cutchin says. “I always put my foot into every dish I create.”
Saltimbocca meatballs in pomodoro sauce
Time: 2 to 2½ hours
(prepare the sauce first, then make the meatballs)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 white onions, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1½ cups red wine (cabernet sauvignon recommended)
3 (28-ounce) cans San Marzano tomatoes
2 sprigs basil leaves, unchopped
1 sprig fresh oregano, unchopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
- Add ½ cup olive oil to a large stock pot and cook the onions and garlic over medium-low heat until onions are translucent.
- Add wine and let cool for two minutes, stirring to incorporate the wine throughout the onion-and-garlic mixture.
- Add the tomatoes, basil and oregano, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let simmer for one hour. Remove from heat and add the remaining ½ cup of oil.
- Blend with an immersion blender until smooth, about 4 minutes. (If an immersion blender is not available, use a food processor.)
- Finish with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside and keep warm until the meatballs are ready.
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 white onions, finely diced
3 egg yolks
1 cup breadcrumbs
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh sage, finely chopped
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped
8 ounces prosciutto, finely chopped
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon pepper
½ pound ground beef
½ pound ground pork
- In a medium sauté pan on medium-low heat, add ½ cup of olive oil until the smoke point is achieved (about 350-410 degrees).
- When the pan is hot, sauté the onions for about 10 minutes or until translucent. Remove from heat, set aside and let cool.
- In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks and incorporate the breadcrumbs. Add the remaining ingredients, including the sautéed onions, and mix well.
- Form the meat into roughly 20 3-ounce balls.
- In a large sauté pan, heat the remaining ½ cup of oil, then add the meatballs and sear them until cooked internally to a temperature of 165 degrees.
- Finish them in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes or until nicely browned and the juices run clear when a toothpick is inserted into the meatballs.
Mix meatballs with the sauce and place on top of pasta of your choice. Cutchin suggests fettuccine. Top with a sprig of fresh basil and grated Romano cheese.