Jul 23, 2010

Selena's "rosbif" recipe

I’ve known Selena since my first clumsy approach towards country-life in my early teens, many many years ago. It seemed an impossible task back then. Forcing a family summer vacation in campagna on a 14-year old whose only desire was to dance on the beach, flirt and watch TV. But I must say, I tackled it phenomenally.

Every summer, Selena and I grew closer and became good friends. Each time I’d visit her splendid country estate, I learned some new kitchen trick, surrendered peacefully to the supremacy of bees and babysat her kids. She taught me to appreciate the rural life and helped fuel my love for the simple joys of cooking.

She was with me during the very last days of single mama-to-be pregnancy, when I needed the fresh, hands-on advice of a fellow mother and the warmth of a friendly embrace. I was in full gestational nesting compulsion, and she encouraged my impetus by helping me clean out an entire wall-to-wall bookshelf, rearranging all the volumes I own, and classifying them thanks to her skillful archivist expertise.

Selena competes with my mother for the 'best cook I know' title. She delights friends and family with her spectacular cooking and engages in crazy food tournaments with my mother when we all visit together. Copious drinking, gargantuan meals–and consequent weight gaining–take place during these festive occasions.

After swimming or roaring ping pong matches, forest walks, lazy chit chat while crafting lavender sachets, or picking fruit off the trees in the orchard, I like to sit under her cherry tree, smiling in the sunset. I sip last year’s vintage Sangiovese, and sniff the aromas wafting out from the nearby kitchen. Bliss.

Here is the recipe for what she fed us 20 guests during last year's grape harvest special. With prior permission to pass it on, Selena's rosbif––as is pronounced here––a sensational (pot)roast beef.

1 kg (2 lbs) lean beef sirloin tip roast, trimmed and tied
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 fat sprig of rosemary
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Butcher's twine

The trick is in the lacing, she says. Start tying the roast salami-style. This is quite easy, just tie one of the ends with a piece of kitchen string and do not cut it. Then pull the string about 5 cm (2”) from where you made your first loop and circle again around the roast.

Pass the string inside the loop and pull (see picture). You'll need to use all three pairs of hands for this. Although my mother (she's the hand model in these photos) does it without thinking.

Scrub the beef with salt and pepper and place in a high-rimmed Dutch oven type broiler with the oil, unpeeled garlic cloves and the rosemary. I slide the herb sprig directly under the lacing so that it is in close contact with the meat. I do NOT however cut small slits to lodge the garlic in the beef. Too surgical. And useless, since this particular cooking method assures plenty flavoring without cutting gashes into the flesh.

Note: Be sure that whichever pot you choose as a cooking vessel, is complete with a tight fitting lid.

Turn on the heat on very high mark, and as the oil begins to heat up, sear the meat with the lid covered for 5 minutes. Uncover, turn the roast on the other side and cover again. Sear for an additional 5 minutes on the b-side, then lower the heat to medium intensity and cook covered for 20 more minutes. It is important that you do not take the lid off the cooking pot during this time. Ever!

Serve your roast beef immediately, carving generous slices against the grain, lavishly drizzled with the cooking drippings. Best if eaten along side a fresh garden salad or fluffy mashed potatoes and stewed peas.

Note: for roast cuts of different weight, calculate 3 minutes for each 100 gr (3 1/2 oz) total cooking time. For my kilo (1,000 g) of roast I counted a total of 30 minutes, searing one side for 5 minutes, the flip side for 5 minutes and then roasting for final 20 minutes (5+5+20=30). Provided no cool air enters the pot, the result is an evenly browned, sizzling outside and a lovely rare crimson heart.

Visiting Selena and her storybook family in her splendid Tuscan Renaissance Villa in the hills overlooking Prato is my idea of the perfect vacation. I usually plan it out so that I can also squeeze in hosting a few cooking classes and offer Culinary Adventures in the area.

My train whistles at 8:40 tomorrow morning. For the next 3 weeks, this is where you can find me...

Villa Rucellai ~ Canneto (PO)
Rosticciana, tomato salad, bruschetta...



  1. ooooh lucky you eleonora!!! what a gorgeous villa -- please blog while you're there so we can enjoy vicariously ♡

    wonderful recipe by the way but it must wait until fall -- the heat here is just too much for turning on the oven right now (even a Dutch oven)!

  2. that sounds wonderful...hope you have a marvelous time on your trip...very nice.

  3. Oh my, how I wish I could do one of those courses!
    Maybe in the future....

  4. I really like your little vignette of a story! Friends are so precious. And to share food with them is something special. Enjoy your friend and your vacation.
    Greetings from SoCal.

  5. we all need a Selena in our life.. love your blog

  6. What a great person and friend! That beef looks irresistible!
    Nice to visit such a serene place~

  7. What a beautiful spot...with such good food, friends and memories. Lovely!

  8. Amanda~ I will be indeed blogging from the countryside. There's no need for an oven for this recipe, that's the easy part: only a stewpot and a burner!
    Brian~ Thanks, I really need to escape the city!
    Mimi~ Oh you must come then! Book a flight, I'll organize the rest.
    Lana~ Thank you for your visit and kind comment! Whereabout in southern CA are you from? My dad lived in LA for a long time, now relocated to Pebble Beach!
    Kennedy~ Ciao! I think we all do have one. Thanks for stopping by!
    CChuck~ it IS irresistible!!
    Saretta~ You should take the kids here sometime! Ciao

  9. I have just the cast iron pot that is needed...
    I'd have to cook it longer though as my Italian husband likes his roast beef rather more cooked through than I do...

  10. spacedlaw~ If you prefer your meat a little more well done, once the cooking time has elapsed, leave the roast in the covered pot to cool off the stove for 10-15 minutes before serving. This allows for the beef to continue cooking from the accumulated heat in your “stovetop mini oven”. It works!


  11. Buon appetito! It looks delicious... My tummy is rumbling as I write.

  12. eleonora - award for you on my blog!

  13. eleonora - award for you on my blog!

  14. stratusviatoris~ MY tummy is enlarging on this vacation! So much glorious food and memorable meals...
    Amanda~ Oh thank you, I'll be right over!


  15. I was looking for a rosbif recipe in english, to impress my pratese hubby of course (i am an american Living in prato) find this and low and behold, Not only do i know Selena but we are related by marriage! What a crazy coincidence!! I will be trying the rosbif out tonight!

  16. I was looking for a rosbif recipe in english, to impress my pratese hubby of course (i am an american Living in prato) find this and low and behold, Not only do i know Selena but we are related by marriage! What a crazy coincidence!! I will be trying the rosbif out tonight!

  17. Bianca~
    Small world!! We may even have met by the pool... who is your husband? Hope the roastbeef worked, it certainly does impress ;)