Great cooking specialties often are named for places of origin. How many of these do you recognize?
Salade Niçoise, risotto alla Milanese, chicken Kiev, Tunisian tajine, eggs Florentine, Peking duck, potatoes Lyonnaise, pad Thai, eggs à la Riga, ragù Bolognese, Turkish delight, Mountain View veal with eggplant. (Note: Not all are equally famous.)
The story of how that last dish came to be publicized entails national and state history, and Mountain View's own pioneering 20th-century winery. Gemello Winery operated on El Camino Real from the 1930s to 1980s; a neighborhood is now named for it.
First, some historical context.
A United States wine industry flourished in 19th and early 20th centuries, but withered after 1919's 18th Constitutional Amendment empowered federal "prohibition" of alcoholic beverages. Prohibition was an international trend; other nations tried it, including Russia, Finland, Norway and Canada. All later repealed it, as the US did in late 1933. California's wine industry then began a slow rebirth and not until 1990 did the U.S. surpass its peak pre-Prohibition winery count.
In 1938, recognizing wines' agricultural importance, California launched a Wine Advisory Board, which worked with an industry group, the Wine Institute, to promote California's products. The board created educational materials, initially to counter Prohibitionist rhetoric that wine was just a source of alcohol for getting drunk. Long experience in places like Mediterranean Europe showed that wine could be a healthy part of daily life, complementing and enhancing food. Not just by chance did so many influential California winemakers have names like Bargetto, Franzia, Gallo, Latour, Martini, Masson, Mirassou, Mondavi, Nichelini, Parducci, Pedroncelli and Sebastiani.
In that tradition and foreseeing Prohibition's end, in 1933 Italian immigrant John Gemello (1882-1981) started a winery on 31 acres off El Camino Real, where his family grew fruits and vegetables. By the late 1950s, Gemello focused on premium cork-closed wines; thereafter, major books on California wine regularly mentioned the winery. In 1983, John's granddaughter Sandy Gemello Obester took over; she and husband Paul soon consolidated Gemello with their own Obester winery in Half Moon Bay. In 2002 Obester was sold, evolving to La Nebbia.
Gemello Winery contributed recipes to a winemaker cookbook series published by the Wine Advisory Board. Mountain View veal with eggplant appeared in 1965's "Adventures in Wine Cookery by California Winemakers."
The dish fries veal cutlets and breaded eggplant slices separately. These are then assembled in a baking pan, one cutlet on each eggplant piece and a slice of cheese between; surrounded by a mixture of sour cream, tomato sauce and white wine; baked until tender; and sprinkled with slivered almonds.
Many early post-Prohibition California wines were dessert and fortified types à-la sherries. So-called table or dinner wines, which are typical today, didn't dominate by-volume sales until the late 1960s. That history influenced the 1965 cookbook, whose recipes (Gemello's included) often specify dessert wines or commercial genres like California Sauterne. The cookbook also reflects the era's greater use of certain ingredients: veal, lamb, organ meats, lots of sour cream. But the recipes are diverse; I've found good and timeless cooking ideas in it. As it is with many older cookbooks.
For full recipes of the Mountain View dish and others, used-book sellers (including amazon.com) offer inexpensive spiral-bound and paperback copies of 1965's "Adventures in Wine Cookery by California Winemakers." My details on the Gemello family and its winery are from Mario Gemello's memoir on the Bennion Trust website tinyurl.com/SCMGemello.