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Favorite recipes: Filetto al Vino Rosso
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Favorite recipes: Filetto al Vino Rosso

I can hardly imagine a food-and-wine combination much better than rare beef and red wine, a pairing that has evolved over centuries as the textbook example of a perfect match. And just as they go together at the table, the flavors of beef and red wine are natural companions in a dish. A while back (March 7) we featured stracotto, an Italian beef pot roast. Today I'd like to present a long-time favorite, filet mignons pan-braised in red wine.

I've been cooking this dish in some form for more than 20 years; the original recipe is in my tattered old 1978 edition of Marcella Hazan's second cookbook, "More Classic Italian Cooking." With years of repetition, I've simplified Hazan's version somewhat and de-fatted it considerably, but it remains faithful to the Piemontese tradition in the clean and simple way that it blends and presents the pure flavors of beef and wine.

It works particularly well with filet mignons, rounds sliced from the thin end of the beef tenderloin. An extremely tender cut but frankly not the most flavorful piece of beef, filets gain personality when suffused with the flavors of red wine, garlic, black pepper and olive oil.

Hazan's original is called "Filetto al Barolo" and she actually recommends cooking it in Barolo, the great red Piemontese wine. This might have made sense in 1978, but only the idle rich would consider using a $50 bottle in a recipe today; ditto for her first suggested alternative, Cote-Rotie. She also mentions Zinfandel or Petite Sirah, which pretty much covers the waterfront as far as red wine goes. To be frank, I find that any dry red good enough to drink works well in this dish; the high heat and extreme reduction will cook out any delicate nuances of variety or "terroir" before it gets to the table, anyway.

Here's the dish as I make it nowadays. It shouldn't take more than 15 minutes to come to the table, and makes a fine dinner with any starch from potatoes to pasta plus a salad or green vegetable.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

2 filet mignons, 6 to 8 ounces each (about 1 inch thick).
Sea salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large garlic cloves
1 cup dry red wine

PREPARATION:

1. Sprinkle the steaks with sea salt and abundant freshly ground black pepper. If you wish, let them stand for a while before cooking to absorb the pepper flavor. (NOTE: Some experts advise not salting meat until after it's cooked, based on the hypothesis that this will somehow "draw out the juices." In my experience, steaks taste better if they are salted first. Use your own judgement, whatever makes you happy.)

2. Put a heavy skillet, preferably black iron, over high heat. Pour in the olive oil and heat until it's hot but not smoking. Smack the garlic cloves to break them open and release their juices, and put them in the skillet.

3. Put in the steaks and leave them to sear on one side for 2 minutes. Turn them over and sear on the other side for 1 minute. Then pour in about 1/3 of the wine, and cook, leaving the heat on high, until it is almost completely reduced, turning the steaks occasionally. Add another 1/3 of the wine, reduce, and repeat the process with the last of the wine. It should take about 10 minutes, at which point the steaks should be a delicious medium-rare, hot pink at the center. Remove them, deglaze the pan with a little extra wine or warm water to make a natural "jus" if you wish, and serve.

MATCHING WINE: As noted, this dish will go beautifully with any good red wine, and there's no need to be finicky about matching your table wine with the cooking wine. I do like to reserve this dish for special reds, though - Nebbiolos from Piemonte, Burgundy or Bordeaux or their New World equivalents. This time I served it with the Burgundy featured in today's Wine Advisor, Maurice Ecard 1999 Savigny-les-Beaune "Les Narbantons".

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Thursday, May 30, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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