Friday, December 12, 2008

Dinner With The Nonnas

This morning I felt the urge to cook and cook up a storm. I studied my selection of cookbooks, particularly a new book from my father featuring the Italian recipes of “Italy’s Grandmothers.” Every recipe comes complete with a small photograph of a white haired Italian nonna. After spending a half hour with the nonnas, I switched gears to Alice Water’s Chez Panisse cookbook. My taste buds and mind were soon reeling from the possibilities and I was ready to hit the gourmet grocer. I decided on an aged Rib Eye steak, beautifully marbled with a deep brick color. I also bought a large can of imported Italian Cannellini beans and Belgian endives for side dishes.

Steak is one of the more glorious staples of the animal protein world, especially cooked rare with freshly ground black pepper and nice crust. I always prepare my steaks the same way, cooked in a cast iron pan and finished in the oven. After rubbing both sides of the steak with a generous helping of salt and black pepper, let it rest until room temperature. Heat the pan and melt equal parts butter and olive oil until just smoking and sear the steak for 2-3 minutes a side. The pan will smoke and spatter so be sure to have adequate ventilation. Finish the steak in a 350-degree oven for 3-7 minutes depending on how you like your steak. I am a rare, or bleu, person, which I attribute to the periods of my life spent in France. Wrap the steak in foil and let it rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing, serving, eating, or whatever it is you plan to do with perfectly cooked and flavorful meat. Deglazing is the first step to any good pan sauce and any alcohol or vinegar at hand will work though something that one would drink paired with the meal is best. I would normally use wine or cognac to deglaze but I only had bourbon on hand so I added about a shot to the hot pan and stirred like crazy to loosen the drippings. To create a sort of steak au poivre variation I sautéed minced shallots in the pan and added a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, about a quarter cup of heavy cream, and salt and pepper. Simmer for five minutes to thicken the sauce, marry the ingredients and serve on the side or drizzle over sliced steak.

To round out the meal I sautéed the Cannellini beans with garlic, olive oil, chili flakes, rosemary, and tons of lemon zest, a recipe inspired by Alice Waters and the memorable meals I have had at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. The beans are wonderful as is but I suggest roughing them up a bit with the back of a wooden spoon, smashing the ingredients coarsely into a flavorful puree. I served them in a small bowl topped with a bit of lemon zest, good olive oil, and fresh parsley. This is a very Italian side dish and goes well with just about anything, though it goes best with beef, lamb, or oily fish like Monkfish. I improvised with the endive trying something I have had in France on a number of occasions though my version turned out a bit bitter, drawing out the natural flavor of endive a bit too sharply. I grilled them plain until nicely caramelized and topped them with a light mustard vinaigrette. I succeed in shaking off the rust of a week without cooking, creating a delicious and complete meal in about an hour. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

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