Thursday, December 28, 2006

"Cucina & Famiglia" - Beef Tenderloin accompanied by Artichoke Mashed Potatoes and Orange Cookies

Date I made these recipes: Christmas Day, 2006

Cucina & Famiglia – Two Italian Families Share Their Stories, Recipes, and Traditions by Joan Tropiano Tucci and Gianni Scappin with Mimi Shanley Taft. Foreward by Stanley Tucci
Published by: William Morrow & Company, Inc.
ISBN: 0-688-15902-8

Recipes: Filetto Di Bue Al Prosciutto – Beef Tenderloin with Prosciutto – p. 194, accompanied by Pure Di Patate Ai Carciofini - Mashed Potatoes and Artichokes – p. 274, and Biscotti Casarecci Del Ponticello – Ponticello’s Orange Cookies – p. 294

If you read my blog from Christmas Eve, you’ll know that I had a very difficult time deciding on what to make for my holiday dinner. This cookbook was in my stack of cookbooks under consideration, and as if by magic, it opened to the Beef Tenderloin recipe and right then and there I decided – beef. We were having beef. Granted, it was Italian-style beef, but it was just what I was craving at the moment.

Now, if you don’t know, beef tenderloin is rather expensive, as in $25 a pound, but it was worth every morsel. At least this time when I bought the meat, I didn’t have sticker shock like I did a few years ago when I decided to make beef tenderloin for 6 friends for our holiday dinner. I about fainted when the butcher handed me the package and I sheepishly asked if he could recommend something else that wasn’t quite so expensive. He graciously took the meat back and pointed out some nice pork for my inspection. Lesson learned: know thy meat prices!

So anyway, beef it was. The authors kindly pointed out that the mashed potato recipe on p. 274 would make a lovely accompaniment and they were right on the money. At the last minute, I decided to make the orange cookies to go along with my homemade cordials for dessert, and they remind me of the almond cookies, made by famous baker “Stella D’Oro” (a commercial bakery -, that I ate by the carton when I was a kid. My grandma, Vita, liked to dip them in her coffee in the morning. These are much smaller than the almond cookies but just as delicious.

For those of you who don’t recognize the cookbook author’s names, Stanley Tucci, who wrote the foreword, is an actor who was recently seen in the movie, The Devil Wears Prada. Long before that, however, he played Secondo in one of my favorite movies, Big Night. (By the way, Tony Shalhoub, who now plays Monk on the TV show of the same name, played the older brother, Primo.) Foodies, run, don’t walk, to get your copy today.

Anyway…Stanley’s mother, Joan Tropiano Tucci, teamed up with friend, Gianni Scappin to present these wonderful recipes from Calabria (Joan’s family) and Veneto (Gianni’s). Mimi Shanley Taft added her cookbook expertise to the project. It’s a fun read (I’m a sucker for family history and photos) so while you’re waiting for the beef tenderloin to finish, take a moment to salivate over the rest of the recipes in this book.

Filetto Di Bue Al Prosciutto – Beef Tenderloin with Prosciutto
Note: the ingredients below are for 6-8 servings. I cut the recipe in half to serve 2.

2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil (whoops, I used olive oil!)
1 large carrot, halved lengthwise and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 medium-size onion, quartered
2 celery stalks, halved lengthwise and cut into 2-inch pieces
One 2 ½ to 3 pound beef tenderloin or Chateaubriand
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh rosemary leaves (or, if you are like me and sick of buying fresh herbs that end of turning brown in your fridge, use dried)
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh sage leaves (again, I used dry)
12 very thin slices prosciutto
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ cup dry red wine
1 cup chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Grease a small roasting or baking pan – one that will hold the beef snugly – with the oil.

Arrange the carrot, onion, and celery on the bottom of the prepared pan. Place a wire rack in the pan and set aside. Note: Our small roasting pan was too small for the wire rack so we used a larger one and it worked just fine. We nestled the tenderloin, which we bought in ½ pieces, right next to each other and all was well. They seemed to get along nicely.

Rub the beef all over with the mustard. Sprinkle the rosemary, sage and salt and pepper to taste all over the beef. Place 6 to 8 slices of the prosciutto up and over, and use the remaining slices of prosciutto to completely enclose the beef. Secure the prosciutto around the beef by gently tying the roast with butcher’s string. I didn’t have the string but didn’t need it as the prosciutto adhered to the beef without any difficulties.

Place the roast on the rack and cook in the oven until browned on top, about 15 minutes. Turn the roast and continue cooking until browned and medium rare, about 15 minutes more (an internal thermometer should register about 130 degrees for medium-rare beef). Transfer the meat to a platter and set aside to rest for 10 minutes before removing and discarding the string. Carve into 1-inch-thick slices.

Although I cut the recipe in half in terms of ingredients, you will still need to cook the meat for the times listed above. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, you need to get one for this recipe or you’ll have a hard time knowing when the meat is done. I like medium-rare to rare meet and the timing was perfect.

I did not have the time to make the gravy that accompanied this recipe but here it is should you want to make it:

After removing the beef and wire rack, set the roasting pan over high heat (or transfer the contents to a wide saucepan). Stir in 1 tablespoon of flour, ½ cup of red wine and 1 cup chicken broth. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, to slightly thicken the juices in the pan, about 5 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and spoon over the sliced roast.

Pure Di Patate Ai Carciofini – Mashed Potatoes and Artichokes – serves 4
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped shallots
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
½ pound artichoke bottoms or hearts, cut into 1/2 – inch pieces (you can also use canned artichoke hearts or bottoms)
½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups water
2 ½ pounds Idaho potatoes, peeled
1 clove garlic, peeled
¾ cup milk, warmed
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, softened

Unlike the beef, I made the entire recipe of this dish because, well face it, mashed potatoes are infinitely cheaper than beef tenderloin. Besides that, I just loved mashed potatoes.

Warm the olive oil in a small sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, chopped garlic and parsley and cook, stirring until the shallots soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the artichokes and thyme, then season with salt and pepper. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the artichokes are tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Now, let me take a moment to talk about the “12 minute” reduction of the liquid. Maybe it was me, or maybe it was the heat level I selected, or maybe it was because I used canned artichokes, or maybe it was because I was under the gun to finish this dish in time for my husband to have a lovely meal before he had to make an airport run to pick up his mom, but this stuff just wouldn’t reduce. And so for one, brief, shinning moment, I felt the panic that the contestants on Bravo’s Top Chef show feel when they have 15 minutes to start and finish a dish. I swear to you, I was about sweating buckets. So…I recommend that you either plan for more time for the reduction or you crank the heat to reduce that water or you’re going to be in trouble, I guarantee it. I finally resorted to pouring out the water that just wouldn’t reduce and called it a day. (We won’t even talk about my nightmares of ruining $25 dollars worth of meat.)

But once you get that all under control…place the potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Add the whole garlic clove and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes, discard the garlic, and return the potatoes to the pot. Heat the potatoes over low heat to remove any excess moisture (about 1 minute). Remove from the heat and add the milk (which I microwaved to make it “warm”) and butter. Use a potato masher or electric mixer set on low to incorporate all of the ingredients, leaving the mixture slightly chunky. Stir in the artichokes, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Biscotti Casarecci Del Ponticello – Ponticello’s Orange Cookies – about 48 cookies
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
Pinch of Kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure orange extract
½ cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Or, do as I do and run to my favorite cooking store, Cooks at Crocus Hill at 3:30 on Christmas Eve to buy a Silpat baking mat. (Don’t ask my why I always wait until I’m in the throes of cooking to decide these things.) Silpat sheets are made of silicone and therefore allow you to reuse the same baking pan without having to resort to parchment paper and several baking sheets. If they’re good enough for Martha Stewart (who sang their praises years ago), they’re good enough for you.

In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer (or KitchenAid). Add the butter and beat just to combine. Gradually beat the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Pour the orange extract into the milk, and with the mixer running, gradually add the milk to the batter. The dough will come together to form a ball.

Turn the dough out onto the work surface. Flatten it into a disk shape and cut into quarters. Roll each quarter into a log about 1 inch in diameter. Cut each log into ½-inch-thick slices, and place them 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until lightly golden brown, about 18 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool completely. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Now, I am not really an anal person, but I sometimes have difficulties judging widths and lengths and so to make sure the cookies were neither overly big or overly small, I pulled out a mini tape measure that my husband gave me years ago that I carry in my purse. My husband, besides being practical, was sick of me trying to determine whether a piece of furniture I saw in a store would fit in our house. Furniture in house, cookies on baking sheet – same thing! (Naturally, I used this when he wasn’t looking or he would have just snorted).

You should know that these cookies have a subtle orange taste, so if you’re expecting a burst of orange flavor, you’ll be out of luck. You should also know that unlike other cookies, these cookies retain the shape and size that you cut them into before baking so if you’re expecting super huge cookies, you’re out of luck on that, too. Instead, you’ll get these lovely bite-size cookies that make it easy for you to eat several more than you should at a time. Sure, you can try storing them for two weeks as directed but I wouldn’t get my hopes up if I were you.

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