How to Eat by Nigella Lawson presents simple yet elegant approach to food, including recipes like this complete Midsummer Dinner: Pea, Mint, and Avocado Salad, Beef Fillet with Red Wine, Anchovies, Garlic, and Thyme (with a Tagliata variation), New Potatoes, Warm Spinach with Lemon, and Strawberries in Dark Syrup with Proust's Madeleines.
with Taglaiata variation
from Midsummer Dinner for 8
I love this particular combination; see, too, the more wintry, homey version on page 100 of the book. If you can find some wild arugula, with those tiny William Morris leaves, use it to edge the borders of the serving plate. This doesn't just serve a decorative purpose—its pepperiness perfectly offsets the salty pungency of the anchovy—red-wine sauce.
In a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or casserole in which the fillets will fit comfortably (no scrunching at the ends and they mustn't touch each other), heat the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the larger quantity of butter. Add the shallots, sprinkle with a little salt, and saute on a lowish heat for about 5 minutes or until soft and transparent but in no way coloring. Add the thyme and give 2 more minutes, stirring, then add the garlic and push about the pan too. Now add the anchovies and cook until they've started fusing with the oniony, buttery, oily mess in the pan. Remove this mixture to a bowl for a minute so you can brown the meat and turn up the heat. Sear the fillets on all sides, sprinkling with the sugar as you do so, till you've got a good crusty exterior. Add the brandy, let it bubble up a bit, then pour in the wine. Return the shallot mixture to the pan. Lower the heat and turn the meat over. Give everything a good stir to make sure the shallots, garlic, and so on are not burning or sticking. Cover and cook for 10 minutes—the meat is braising, frying, and steaming all at the same time; as it cooks it breathes in flavor. Uncover, peek in, prod, or poke; if the meat is springy, it's rare; springy but with some resistance, medium-rare to medium. Turn the meat over, cover again, and leave for another 5-10 minutes, depending on your findings and taste.
When the meat is almost as you like it, remove it from the pan (it will cook a little more as it rests) and get on with the sauce.And you can do all this before you sit down for the first course. Fish out the garlic with a spoon. Then turn up the heat and let the sauce bubble up a good bit, and taste, adding salt, if needed, and pepper. You may want to add some water. Take off the heat, but warm up before serving, at which time you should first pour into it the meat juices that have run out of the fillet as it stands and whisk in the remaining diced butter. Carve the fillets, arrange on a large, warmed plate, and drizzle over some of the sauce, leaving the rest in a sauce boat or pitcher for people to pour for themselves.
If you're going for the tagliata, get 2 beef slices, each about 1-1/4 inches thick, cut from along the whole length of the rump (about 1 pound per piece), and put each in a large freezer bag to marinate with a clove of garlic squished with the flat of a knife, 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, the zest of 1/2 lemon, a few peppercorns, and a heaping teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 teaspoon of dried. Tie or knot the bags and put them in the fridge for 12 or so hours. Remove and let come to room temperature before cooking as above. It's hard to say how long they'll take; it so depends on how you like your meat. I like mine pretty well still quaking and trembling on the plate—20 minutes or so, depending on how my oven or outdoor grill is behaving. Test by prodding before you start poking knives in—to elaborate on the above, if it's very, very soft and bouncy, it's blue; springy, rare; springy but with resistance, medium-rare to medium, depending on that resistance; hard—well, you know the answer to that. Take the steaks out, let them stand for 10 minutes, then carve thickly or thinly as you like, crosswise and on the diagonal. If you've roasted the meat, you'll have some meat juices; deglaze with a little red wine or Marsala, strain, adding a few more chopped thyme leaves to the clear ruby juices, then dribble over the carved meat. There won't be enough for a sauce boat. Put a plate of lemon quarters on the table too, for squeezing over the meat as you eat.
Proper new potatoes need nothing more than a brisk rubbing before cooking and the lightest anointing with butter after. As to the cooking itself—these are best steamed, but it's pretty well impossible to steam enough for 8 people, so just boil them, but make sure you don't overboil them. I'd work on rations of about 8 ounces a head; this sounds like a lot on paper, but on the plate it somehow isn't.
You've got enough going on with everything else, so I'd use packaged spinach, or even frozen (providing it's whole leaf, not chopped). Get 4-5 packages of the fresh stuff, 3 of the frozen. And you're not doing much more than wilting the former, thawing the latter. Add butter, olive oil, and a bit of lemon juice, or else a good sprinkling of sumac, that sour, citrussy, Middle Eastern ground-berry spice.
Leave some wedges of lemon around the edges of the dish. A little grating of fresh nutmeg does something extraordinary here, too. The spinach should be at room temperature.
A really good Burgundy is always the perfect wine with beef.
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This page created August 2007
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