One of my closest friends is Selena P. We go back a long time.I’ve known her 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, ecco Selena's breathtaking (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 & pepper
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.
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 (1000 gr) 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...
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