Magazine article Sunset

Bring Tuscany Home: A Simple Late-Summer Supper with Friends Makes the Most of Italian Flavors. (Food: Entertaining)

Magazine article Sunset

Bring Tuscany Home: A Simple Late-Summer Supper with Friends Makes the Most of Italian Flavors. (Food: Entertaining)

Article excerpt

* Italy's charms-its people, its art, and especially its food-tend to cast a spell on visitors, and San Franciscans Donald Frediani and Renata Gasperi are no exception. They've been captivated by this seductive land, which they've visited 14 times in the past 25 years. They go to spend time with family and tend a small inherited house, but most of all for the cuisine of their Italian heritage.

Frediani, the cook of the pair, records each meal in his travel diary. Back in California, he recreates dishes for enthusiastic guests. This Tuscan menu draws inspiration from a meal Frediani and Gasperi had at La Grotta in Montepulciano. It shows off fresh ingredients naturally and simply.

This summer supper for 6 to 8 comes together easily-each course can be made ahead (see "Time Plan," page 148) or finished while guests relax around the table. Offer breadsticks wrapped with thinly sliced prosciutto as an hors d'oeuvre, then unmold zucchini timbales and grill a big steak, rare and juicy, the way the Tuscans like it. Harvest vegetables, roasted until sweet, go alongside. The meal comes to a leisurely close with wedges of custard-filled torta or purchased almond biscotti served with vin santo, a sweet golden dessert wine, or espresso. From start to finish, this simple menu brings the enchanting flavors of the Tuscan countryside into your own home: Mangia bene!

Grilled Steak on Arugula

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 1 hour

NOTES: You can slice the artichokes up to 1 hour before serving; if you can't find baby artichokes, omit them. Buy a block of parmesan cheese larger than needed (at least 4 oz.) so you can shave curls from it. Drizzle the steak with a Tuscan or other peppery olive oil.

MAKES: 6 to 8 servings

 2 tablespoons lemon juice
12 ounces baby artichokes (each
   about 2 in. wide; see notes),
   optional
 2 boned beef top loin steaks or
   1 sirloin steak (2 in. thick; 2 1/2 to
   3 lb. total.)
   About 5 tablespoons extra-virgin
   olive oil
 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
 8 ounces (2 qt.) baby or bite-size
   pieces rinsed and crisped
   arugula leaves or tender
   watercress sprigs
   Salt and fresh-ground pepper
   About 2 ounces parmesan
   cheese (see notes)

1. In a large bowl, combine 1 quart water and the lemon juice. Rinse artichokes. Starting with lower, outer petals, snap off and discard leaves near bases, down to those that are half green and half yellow. Slice green tops off cones. Cut stems flush with bases and trim off any remaining dark green. Cut artichokes in half lengthwise and, if the center is fuzzy or prickly, scrape out. Drop artichokes in lemon water as trimmed. Lift artichokes out and slice paper-thin in food processor, with a hand guard on a box slicer or mandoline, or with a sharp knife. Return slices to lemon water.

2. Rinse beef and pat dry; trim off excess surface fat. Rub 1 tablespoon olive oil all over steak.

3. Set steak on a barbecue grill over a solid bed of medium coals or medium heat on a gas grill (you can hold your hand at grill level only 5 to 6 seconds); close lid on gas grill. Cook, turning once, until rare (red to pinkish red in the center and pale pink near the surface; cut to test or insert a thermometer in center of thickest part-it should register about 125[degrees]), 12 to 16 minutes total, or medium-rare (pinkish red in center, gray near surface, 135[degrees] in center), 16 to 20 minutes total. Let rest in a warm place for about 5 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix 1 tablespoon each olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add arugula and mix gently to coat. Arrange arugula on a large platter. To the bowl, add 1 more tablespoon each olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Drain artichoke slices well and add to bowl; mix gently. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread artichokes and dressing evenly over arugula.

5. Cut steak crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices and arrange, slightly overlapping, on arugula. …

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