BISTECCA ALLA FIORENTINA

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Florentine Steak How to Rock a Steak Like a Tuscan! Steak_18a Buon giorno! Here’s the beef! Do Italians really eat steak? We thought pasta was their thing. WRONG! Italians are definitely about more than pasta. Not only do they eat  and prepare steak with the same simplicity and respect for ingredients that you see in their other dishes but their preparation is given the same precision. Nowhere do they do it better than in Tuscany, home of the infamous Bistecca Alla Fiorentina or Florentine Steak, among the most classic of all Italian dishes. (Fiorentina – means in the style of Florence) The preparation of this dish is so simple and easy, you might wonder – what’s the big deal? I’m here to tell you that this simplicity IS the big deal. I know, I know – everyone has his/her favorite method of cooking steak. This is a little different, and I offer only guidelines, as I am not right there to peer into your grill detecting the hotness or intensity of the fire. All I can say  is – this is different –it is the Florentine way – and it results in an amazing piece of meat. First, back to the pasture: Italy is not known for its abundance of grazing land. Thus, less beef is eaten in many regions than other meats. The finest of these areas are located in the North. Ah – but then… there’s Tuscany! A drumroll please… It is here in the renowned Val di Chiana near Arezzo that the revered Chianina cattle make their home and provide the steak for the authentic preparation of Bistecca Alla Fiorentina. These animals are always white and provide some of the finest steaks in Italy. Pronounced: kya-NEE-na, these cattle are the largest breed in the world and among the oldest dating back over 2200 years. Because of the high quality of tender and juicy meat and the nutritional value they have been cross-bred with cattle throughout the world. The Tuscan Way: Typically, Tuscans cook very simply with the best of ingredients. They do not douse their culinary creations in fancy complicated sauces. Aside from relying on good ingredients, the Tuscans, look more to method – how a dish or a meat is prepared. In this case, Tuscans follow some definite rules. The authenticity of the steak dish is all-important. Aside from using the Chianina beef, the cut needs to be perfect – from the vitellone or young steer (not a calf) – uh – and well hung, as they say. No joke – it’s true!  Alas, in this case, folks, size does matter. The steak must be at least an inch thick and cut from the rib. The usual portion designated for two is 2 1/2 pounds, and the cut is preferably Porterhouse with the filet and contre filet. However a T-bone is a fine choice. A 2 1/2 inch thick steak or “three fingers” is perfect. Steak_02 Dry, Dry, Baby: Obviously, dry-aged is the way to go if you can, but the pocketbook does not always allow. To go the extra mile, and get the most out of what you have, you can dry your steak a little beforehand as described by the blog,  Memorie di Angelina : Try propping the steak up on chopsticks  for a few hours so that air can travel underneath and take some of the wetness out of the meat. This is definitely worth doing, folks. You can also repeat this chopstick idea after grilling when you are letting the steak rest for a few minutes. Steak_01 Burn Notice: Never, never, never overcook a Tuscan steak. It’s a rule! (and a tragedy)  Customarily, the steak is grilled over charcoal or wood fire. Just a few short minutes on each side, you’re done. A true “Fiorentina” is traditionally served rare – but the idea is to enjoy it – so if you must have it a little more “done”, have at it. The Slicing: You will always see this steak cut in one characteristic fashion which is straight across the meat, with the filet removed first ( if you have a Porterhouse) and then then the contre filet or strip steak. Oh By the way: My husband, Tom, likes to take the leftover steak (“as if” there is any left) and lightly fry it up in a little olive oil with a fried egg the morning after. He says this is not your Waffle House Steak and Eggs –it’s the best you will ever taste. Put it on your bucket list. A “must do”. Perfection: You can find Bistecca Alla Fiorentina virtually anywhere in the Florence area. When it’s good – it’s perfection! Fire up that grill for the best steak you’ll ever have! Move over, “favorite steakhouse” – you no longer need their services.

BISTECCA ALLA FIORENTINA

Serves: 2 Cook time: about 20-24 minutes for the size indicated–for rare Fiorentina style Rest: 5-10 minutes Ingredients: 1  2 1/2 pound Porterhouse or T-Bone Steak about 2 – 2 1/2 in. thick – or even 3 if you like!  We’re talkin’ thick here. Go with the 3 finger rule! Extra Virgin Olive Oil for brushing and drizzling Sea Salt or Coarse Salt Freshly Ground Pepper Lemon Wedges or Grilled Lemon Halves Instructions: Important: Take steak out of refrigerator at least an hour before cooking (2 is better) and bring down to room temp – results will always improve by doing this. Try the chopsticks method mentioned in the text. Sprinkle with Sea Salt and fresh pepper generously just after you take it out. This helps to form a crust when grilled. Lots of Sea Salt or coarse salt is necessary before and after the grilling. Steak_03 When ready, heat up your grill to very hot – preferably using charcoal or wood fire (You’re going to want some good smoke here – I prefer wood – oak, hickory etc)

Grill the steak 3-4 inches from the fire.

Steak_04 Plan on about 8 minutes per side for the rare Fiorentina style, (plus a few minutes standing on the bone) if your steak is in the 2 1/2 inch range, but the time will depend on how you like it. The time will ultimately be determined by how hot your grill is and how you prefer the meat. This is only a guide. Keep in mind that the steak will continue to cook a little after you remove it from the grill. The thicker the steak – the longer the cook time. If 3 inches – plan on about 20-24 minutes total on a hot and smoking grill for rare meat alla Fiorentina. Steak_05

When the first side is done – flip the steak over and cook that side.

Steak_06 When the second side is finished, some like to stand the steak on the grill upright on the bone side for about 4 minutes. This forces the blood away from the bone and provides more even cooking.Bistecca Alla FiorentinaA note: Be careful – the tenderloin side will cook faster than the strip or contre filet side. Move the steak around to accommodate as necessary. Let the steak rest for about 5-10 minutes after removing from grill. Steak_08 Just before serving, Salt and pepper again and drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Steak_09Steak_10Steak_11

The slicing is part of tradition and authenticity. It is done this way:

Cut the filet out first.

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Then cut out the contre filet or the strip steak.

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Then slice each section. It is usually served as you see here.

Steak_18a Serve with lemon wedges or grilled lemon halves. I like earthy choices for sides here: some beautiful sauteed wild mushrooms along with a bowl of Tuscan white beans seasoned with a little olive oil, coarse salt, and fresh Rosemary. The Finish: A steak like this prepared in an authentic fashion must always, in my book, be served with the very best you can afford in a beautiful red wine. Many like Barolo, but my first selection would be the smooth and always lovely Brunello di Montalcino. Casalino 2006 DOCG is a beauty. A fine Chianti Classico Riserva would also give this fine steak its proper due. Not another word necessary!

PARLA COME MANGI!

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Fire In The Hole!

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Buon giorno!

It always interests me as to the motivation for “toy choices”. Why this thing and not that?

When our good friends, Barbara and Steve, told us about their new “construction project”– an outdoor wood burning Pizza Oven, I was intrigued immediately. For Pizza lovers, this is the “toy of toys”. I just had to know everything about this so that I could share it with you. When they graciously asked us to come by to see and sample, I knew this would be a treat, and I couldn’t wait.

The whole concept of having one’s own personal outdoor Pizza Oven was immediately alien to me as a small town Italian girl, born and raised in Binghamton,NY. Loretta and Attilio, my parents, (read more about them on the About Page on my website, Linda’s Italian Table < click here) made their own dough simply, added fresh tomatoes and homemade sausage or pepperoni, and just popped it into the oven. (Find out more about making pizza with Loretta and Attilio – Arugula Pizza < click here ) I thought I had “graduated” when I began using a pizza stone! Who knew?

Barbara and Steve, a couple of real Italian food lovers, have taken Pizza Making to an entirely new level. Barbara had the pizza oven idea tucked away in her mind since the 1970’s when she became serious about learning to cook. The whole idea began when they were thinking of making some adjustments to their home. Their children were grown and sprung from the nest, and Barbara and Steve thought, “What next?” So, their attention turned to something they love to do – cooking and entertaining. A few years before, the couple had completely revamped their kitchen, a project featured in an Atlanta magazine. They incorporated a very sleek and updated look to serve as the backdrop to a functional environment where Barbara could practice what she learned as apprentice in some of the top restaurant kitchens in Atlanta.

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See the exquisite Lacanche “Cluny” stove where she does her creating indoors. I have to confess, the old “green eyed monster” emerged when I first gazed upon that lovely piece. Read more about these incredible French ranges at Lacanche Coet d’Or < click here.

With the renovation behind them, what then could they possibly add to their already state of the art cooking facilities? They knew just what was missing – an outdoor wood burning Pizza Oven that was authentic and efficient. The authenticity factor was important to them, and they spent a good amount of time researching and designing the oven that would be a permanent and very important element in their home that was true to the way they enjoyed entertaining their family and friends.

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In Steve’s research, he found Forno Bravo < click here – and purchased the actual prefabricated oven from them online. He then enlisted a mason to house and build the stucco and brick facade. At the same time, the mason built an attached fireplace according to their design similar in style to the oven so that they could extend their seasonal outdoor use of their deck/patio. This fireplace incorporated the same stone used in other exterior parts of the home. An area was efficiently designated to store logs in the back of the structure. The process took an amazingly short 2 ½ weeks! It was then, that Steve could begin the process of “curing” the oven with small fires before actually progressing to making pizzas.

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Steve has the process down to a “science”. When we arrived, Steve began the quite deliberate task of starting the fire – a process that takes about an hour. He explained that his preferred method is from “top to bottom”. Instead of putting the kindling on the bottom and wood over it as is common in fire building, he places the wood on the bottom and kindling on the top.

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The heavy insulation provides the environment in which an intense fire will develop within about an hour to achieve the desired 900 degrees needed to cook a perfect pizza in 2 minutes!

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Steve monitors the temperature with an infra red thermometer while he waits for the interior of the oven to turn”white hot”. One can even bake bread in this oven by placing a door-like device in front of the opening to keep ALL of the heat inside.

During our demonstration, when the fire was deemed ready, Steve’s duties turned from fire starter to pizza tender and server extraordinaire!

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Barbara who creates behind the scenes while Steve “mans” the oven, soon appeared with her infamous dough and toppings.

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While we were there, she made it all appear easy!

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She asked everyone to create a pizza suited to their taste and delight. The guests even added some of Barbara’s beautiful and mouth watering antipasti to their pizzas as well as several types of cheeses including ricotta with garlic. Troppo Bella !

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Absolutely nothing was missed when it came to inventive ways to dress these pizzas thanks to Barbara’s innovative preparation. In addition, it was incredible fun for her guests.

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The finished products produced crusts that were light and crispy. The toppings of intensely flavorful meats, cheeses, and vegetables provided a “kid in a candy store” experience for everyone.

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When it comes to pizza, these folks know how to do it!  Thank you, Barbara and Steve!!

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Parla Come Mangi!

Also: See the NEW JANUARY RECIPE OF THE MONTH on LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE!

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