bistecca alla Fiorentina
This is the famous steak from Florence and don’t you dare insult him (it must be a he, don’t you think) going “but, hey, this is a T-bone steak!”. A real bistecca alla Fiorentina is cut from the ridge (it consists of the backbone, a tenderloin piece and a strip loin piece) of the chianina veal or steer. This breed originates from the southeast corner of Tuscany, is the biggest breed and all white (More information in Italian and some great pictures). Unfortunately, the EU is trying to make the breeders and butchers in Italy to cut and sell the bistecca without the bone for fear of bse (the mad-cow disease). Can you think of a T-Bone steak without the T-Bone?
T. and I had our last bistecca alla Fiorentina over 2 years ago, when we were visiting my brother (who, I am sure, is very jealous reading this, but he is going to be in Italy in a couple of weeks, so who should be jealous?) and have been dreaming of it the whole time. I had been looking for it in vain in Germany. Until a couple of weeks ago.
Going around the Markthalle in Stuttgart, marvelling at everything, I saw this little butchers stand, tucked away on one side of the building along the outer wall, and on the display case is said “chianina” and true enough, there they lay, the 5 cm thick pieces of the dark meat with the bone in them. I was so thrilled that I immediately started interrogating the poor Italian butcher, where does he get it from, does he always have it, and then we were involved in a very funny (because of my Italian and his German) political discussion of the EU laws and the poor breeders in Tuscany etc. On that day I had to leave his stand without my bistecca but I had an idea when I would be coming back.
On T.s actual birthday, we drove over 8 ours back from Gols where we had been for the Pannobile Weekend, so I neither had the time to go to the Italian butcher nor did I have the power to take on the fight i was afraid that preparing the bistecca would mean. So T. got his second favorite dish, a very simple spaghetti with fresh and tasty tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala. In such a simple dish the quality of the ingredients is key and fortunately we had really good stuff. And T. received the promise that the next day he would get his real birthday dinner.
The next day saw me running to the Italian butcher, all the way crossing my fingers that hopefully nothing unforeseen had happened and he really did have my bistecca. I was so relieved when I saw the thick slices in the show case. He told me exactly how I had to prepare the 1,2 kilo monster (which was more or less the same as in my one and only Italian cooking reference book “Ricettario della cucina regionale italiana” and my one and only Italian cooking online source “il cucchiaio d’argento” – Italian only, members only), the way every italian can tell you exactly how to cook something.
It was a lot simpler than I had anticipated: Heat your grill pan (a real barbecue would be better of course) real hot, until some salt that you scattered starts jumping, do not wash the bistecca, sear it 3 minutes on each side, turning it over with a spatula so as not to peak holes in the meat which would cause it to loose its juices (this is actually true for any steak), cut the heat and let the bistecca sit in the pan for a minute or two more. This way you get a bistecca “al sangue“, that is, bloody, but unbelievably tender and it is supposed to be so. Do me a favor and do not eat a bistecca alla Fiorentina if you want it “done”. In Italy, any self-respecting ristorante or trattoria where you ask for a well done bistecca alla Fiorentina will throw you out the door.
Traditionally, the bistecca alla Fiorentina is eaten without any condiments and side dishes, but I did make the “olive oil – lemon juice – garlic – rosemary” sauce the butcher recommended and a simple but delicious salad as well. Of course you have to drink a red wine with this and best would be a wine from Tuscany but we didn’t have a good Tuscan wine at home so we drank a very good Montepulciano instead, Sassi Neri from the Le Terrazze vineyards in the Marche region.