Sliced Beef with Tomatoes and Arugula

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For me, one of the best times to visit Venice is the winter. Although it can get cold, and even albeit rarely snow, during this period, this unique city seems to shed the facade it puts on for spring and summer tourists and shows its true colors. You stroll through the city’s narrow alleys and passageways and through the silence you can hear its citizens going through their daily routines. Somehow, you feel at one with them and are woven into the fabric of La Serenissima.

On one of my visits, I chanced upon a small restaurant, whose name escapes me now, at lunch hour. There were only a few patrons, one table of businessmen, another table with a family of five celebrating a nonna’s birthday. It didn’t take long before I was seated and handed a menu with many familiar dishes typical of the region. One of them, however, stood out, as I had never seen it before: straccetti di manzo con rucola, or “rags of beef with arugula.” I had to try it.

When it appeared on the table, I was struck by how much beef was on the plate, interlaced with wilted leaves of baby arugula and shavings of parmigiano-reggiano. But when I brought my fork to the beef, I saw how thinly sliced it was and realized that my serving, although more than adequate, was not as large as it had appeared at first.

I’ve been wanting to make this dish for some time now, and a recent conversation with a friend who had just been to Italy reminded me about it. So yesterday, I went to one of my butchers and told him I needed some beef for straccetti. To my surprise, he was familiar with the dish and suggested a few cuts. “It’s cooked quickly,” he said “and the meat needs to be tender. I suggest Bohemian steak.” He explained that this cut comes from the tail of the porterhouse, is well marbled, and very flavorful.”

I’m glad I followed his advice, for the dish l prepared last night could not have been better. The beef was cooked in a matter of minutes and, although no more than an eighth of an inch thick, was juicy and tender.

If you’re looking for a quick and easy dish, I highly recommend this one. A Google search yielded a plethora of recipes for straccetti and mine is an amalgam of at least four.

Straccetti di Manzo con Rucola e Pomodorini

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic peeled and smashed
5 ounces grape tomatoes, halved
1 pound Bohemian steak, sliced into 1/8-inch strips
Salt
Fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon good quality Balsamic vinegar
1 large handful of wild arugula, washed and dried
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano shaved

The ingredients
The ingredients

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet large enough to eventually accommodate the meat in a single layer, place the olive-oil and smashed garlic and over medium-low heat poach the garlic until it becomes fragrant and a light gold.

Discard the garlic and add the sliced tomatoes with a pinch of salt and cook over medium heat for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until the tomatoes just start to break down. Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and set aside.

The tomatoes just breaking down
The tomatoes just breaking down

Add an additional tablespoon of oil to the remaining oil in the pan and raise the heat to medium high. When the oil is hot, add the meat separating the slices so they form a single layer. Season the meat with salt and pepper and cook the meat for 3 or 4 minutes, or until the strips are cooked through with no trace of blood. Add the balsamic and cook for about another minute until the vinegar has reduced slightly. Then add the reserved tomatoes with all of their juices. (Be careful not to overcook or the meat will be dry.)

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Beef with the tomatoes and balsamic

Turn off the heat, add the arugula and toss with the beef. The arugula will start to wilt. Add the shavings of cheese and toss once.

Tossed with the arugula and the cheese
Tossed with the arugula and the cheese

Serve immediately on heated plates accompanied with crusty bread to sop up the sauce.

Wine Pairing: Valpolicella, Merlot

Sautéed Scallops with Rosemary and Lemon

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After a week of indulging in more mundane fare like grilled steaks and summer corn, hot dogs with baked beans, and roast chicken, I thought it was time to get back into the kitchen and cook something new. We both wanted that something to be light and and my new schedule required it to be quick to prepare. Looking for a recipe to meet these requirements, I turned to one of Marcella Hazan’s lesser known books, Marcella’s Italian Kitchen. Still widely available online, I find it a more personal book than her better known and widely acclaimed Classic Italian Cooking volumes.

The recipe I chose for dinner last night was one of two in the book for scallops, “Sautéed Scallops with Rosemary and Lemon.” Hazan describes her dish as “simple and very fragrant,” which, in my opinion, is an understatement. The recipe calls for a minimum of ingredients and, including prep time, can be on the table in fewer than thirty minutes That’s simple. But what makes this dish a keeper is its unctuous sauce, redolent with fresh rosemary, pale-gold garlic, and fresh lemon juice. It makes a perfect first course for a more formal dinner or, served with plain rice or crusty bread, an elegant entree for a weekday supper.

If you choose to make this dish for two, you can reduce the amount of scallops. However, I would not cut back on the recipe’s other ingredients, as they yield a sauce so delicious you may find yourselves, like we did, licking your plates to savor every last drop.

To heighten the citrus factor, I used the zest of one lemon, which I added to the pan along with the juice.

Sautéed Scallops with Rosemary and Lemon
Adapted from Marcella’s Italian Kitchen

1.5 pounds small bay scallops
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (Use the best quality you have available.)
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and sliced very thin
1.5 teaspoons fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon (optional)

The ingredients prepped
The ingredients, prepped

Wash and, using a towel, thoroughly pat dry the scallops.

Choose a skillet large enough to eventually accommodate the scallops in a single layer. Start by adding the olive oil and sliced garlic to the empty skillet and place over medium heat.

As soon as the garlic turns a pale gold, add the rosemary and stir quickly. (Do not let the garlic turn brown or it will overwhelm the delicate flavor of the scallops.)

The garlic, lightly gold
The garlic, lightly gold

Add the scallops, and season with salt and ground pepper to taste. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, until the scallops change from translucent to a flat white.

The final sautee
The final sauté

Add the lemon juice and zest, turn up the heat as high as possible, stir once or twice, then transfer to warm plates and coat with the sauce. Serve immediately.

Wine Pairing: Garganega, Soave, Pinot Grigio