Giuseppe Cipriani, the Bar's historic owner, invented and named the dish in reference to the Venetian painter, because the colors of the dish reminded him of his paintings. It was 1950, the year of the great Carpaccio exhibition in Venice.
The Harry's Bar Carpaccio dish was inspired by capricious Contessa Amalia Nani Mocenigo, a local regular at Harry's Bar. Her doctor had put her on a strict diet recommending she eat only raw meat.
The original Harry's Bar delicacy is still made by covering a plate with the thinnest possible slices of raw beef and garnishing them with a secret dressing that is drizzled over the beef in a crosshatch, Kandisnsky-style pattern. It is proverbially called the "universal sauce."
I was raised on a strict Harry's Bar diet of Carpaccio and Risotto Primavera, myself. Those were the days when going to Venice for the weekend was a given, and money wasn't an issue. The source of our family's financial ease was the talented work and infinite generosity of my grandfather Vittorio De Sica.
My fondest memories of him are not glamourous, nor show business-related, they are personal. The vivid images and toasted coffee aroma of our Sunday afternoons spent together still linger in my mind when I think of him. Nonno would nap after having lunch with us, wrapped in a brown cashmere plaid throw, lying on the day bed in what later became my bedroom. I'd be the one to wake him, softly tiptoeing in the dimly lit room, carrying a tray with a small demitasse of espresso, which he'd sip quietly.
The bottom of the cup was my prize, a tiny ring of coffee-tinted sugar that had not quite melted. I'd draw the drapes open and we'd play for a half hour, during which I would frequently show him my latest dance coreographies. My clumsy pirouettes, that would usually land me on my rear end, would obviously make him chuckle, but he never showed it, giving my performance the professional judgement of an unbiased director. Nonno would often tell me where to improve or applaud the less disastrous ones. Then he'd leave, cloaked in his grey flannel suit, elegant and smelling of blue Pantène hair cologne and weathered leather, like his gloves. A wink and a smile on the doorstep and he was gone, 'til the following week.
My grandfather's successful career ended too soon. Cinema lost one of its greatest modern film making artists in 1974 to lung cancer, and my playful Sunday afternoons with Nonno were no more.
|with mom and Nonna Titta on the Grand Canal|
I don't care if I don't go to Venice for the weekend any more. I've never been a fool for fancy clothes or elegant hotels. I love to travel and eat, and I still do that, on a shoestring. And since I could charm my way through a restaurant kitchen from age five, I managed to snatch the secret Carpaccio recipe. For free.
1.3 kg (3 lb) beef sirloin, whole
3/4 cup homemade mayonnaise
1–2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, adjust quantity to taste
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
2–3 tbsp whole milk
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
First of all, make the carpaccio "universal sauce," which is the focal point of this dish. The above-mentioned quantities yield about 250 ml (1 cup). Any leftover can last about 3 days, stored chilled in a closed container.
Put the mayonnaise in a bowl and add the Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice, and blend with a whisk.
Add enough milk to thin the sauce, so it just barely coats the back of a dry wooden spoon. Taste and adjust seasoning, with more Worcestershire sauce and/or lemon juice if necessary.
OK, now the tricky part.
According to tradition, the best carpaccio is made with beef sirloin, and the flavorful meat must never be frozen before slicing. Of course it's easier to slice barely thawed beef, but we're not taking any shortcuts today.
Carpaccio can also be made with beef tenderloin filet, which has a milder flavor than sirloin and is much easier to handle. Ask the butcher to trim the meat for you. You may even be able to convince him to slice it, but do so only if you plan to serve your carpaccio an hour or 2 later, tops.
If you decide to slice the meat yourself, please be careful, I nearly lost a fingertip once.
Trim every bit of fat, gristle, sinew from the sirloin, leaving a small cylinder of tender, lean meat.
Chill the meat for 30 minutes, then using a long-bladed razor-sharp knife, slice the meat paper-thin and arrange the slices on individual salad plates, covering the surface completely. Makes about six servings. Some folks like to sprinkle some shaved Parmigiano at this point. I don't, preferring to maintain the flavors and simplicity intact.
Drizzle the universal sauce decoratively over the meat, and serve immediately.
I quite like this with a properly stored Valpolicella: light in body, low in tannin, and redolent of tart red cherries.