With the weather turning warmer, sometimes the thought of a big serving of protein as a main course -- a piece of chicken or a steak, for instance -- can sound heavy in this season, even if simply grilled. My go-to secondo on balmy Roman nights was always, and remains, one of the most beloved but least-discussed dishes in the Roman culinary canon: straccetti. These are torn, as the word means in English, thinly-sliced pieces of beef made to look like rags (straccci). But the slightly disparaging-sounding name belies the deliciousness of this dish.
The shaved beef slices are quickly sautéed in a pan with some olive oil and a little garlic. They're done in batches, if you're making several servings for a group (as pictured above). When all of the beef pieces are cooked through, you turn up the flame and simply add your acid: here, I used both balsamic vinegar and red wine, but some just use white wine and a squeeze of lemon, others use only balsamic, and so on. Finish with some olive oil at the end (and shhhh...a bit of butter). Then, the straccetti get served on a bed of arugula, or rughetta, in Roman dialect. I like to add a few finishing flourishes, like cherry tomatoes and scaglie (shavings) of parmigiano cheese. In Jewish Roman cooking, artichokes are added to the mix, sometimes in place of the arugula, which is also a great combo. But however you prepare it, the liquid from cooking the beef always gets used as a kind of warm vinaigrette to dress the dish (once again, nothing gets wasted in Italian cooking), and voilá! You have a simple second course that's easy enough to make for one person on a work night, but is also great for groups -- a real crowd-pleaser. This is always paramount when you have a group of 12 hungry diners awaiting their meal...
STRACCETTI CON RUGHETTA, CILIEGINI, E SCAGLIE DI PARMIGIANO
2 pounds beef sliced extra-thin (ribeye or chuck work well) -- ask your butcher to slice on a meat slicer if possible, or slice thin, pound flat, and slice again into little torn "rags"
2 cloves of garlic, whole
Extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 TBS. cold butter
12 ounces baby arugula
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Handful of slices of shaved parmigiano cheese
Salt & pepper to taste
- In a large sauté pan, heat a few spoonfuls of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add a garlic clove and let it cook for 20-30 seconds.
- Add just enough of the the thinly-sliced beef to fit in the pan without being crowded, and cook, moving the beef around the pan so it doesn't stick, until the redness has turned to brown and the beef is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper, and transfer to a bowl.
- Continue with the remaining beef in this way, until all of the beef has been cooked through and seasoned.
- Return the beef to the pan over medium-high heat, and when it starts sizzling, add the wine, cooking to evaporate the alcohol, for about a minute. Add the balsamic, and let that cook for about 3 minutes more. Taste and season appropriately.
- Throw in the butter and allow it to melt into the sauce. Taste again and adjust the seasoning.
- On a plate or platter, arrange the baby arugula, then place the beef on top of the arugula, using tongs. Top with the tomatoes.
- Spoon the pan sauce over the dish, then top with the parmigiano shavings and a drizzle of olive oil.
* Serve with bread to properly fare una scarpetta (mop the sauce with the bread) afterwards.