or, in other words, without any chips at all. We love steak, love it, but I have to admit the whole idea of steak, chips and bearnaise sauce does pall and so I look for other ways to get the juices flowing. I should add at this point MCD Sr is always very happy with chips and bearnaise; was in fact disappointed when I announced my intention not to do chips at all, so I worked hard to find a happy substitute. I think I did it.
My basic premise was a ‘spread’; you know, the kind of thing that makes elderly ladies’ eyes mist over a little at the effort and sheer abundance visibly displayed on the table. I had at my disposal an ageing fennel bulb, some ok tomatoes and mozzarella, a can of cannellini beans, a cornucopia of fresh herbs growing outside and a couple of hours off from MCD Jr to play. Here goes…
First : none of these dishes are time-consuming so do them in the order suits you – they can all justify hanging-around time.
Patate al forno: Oven-roasted potatoes to you and I, but once you’ve cubed and tossed the potatoes in olive oil, put them in a 200C oven for 20 minutes. THEN and only THEN add a few cloves of garlic and some sprigs of rosemary, otherwise the flavourings will burn and it all tastes of forest fire. Once they’re cooked through, usually another 20 minutes, leave them in the switched-off oven till you’re ready.
Fennel: Ok, this is just genius. MCD Sr hates fennel, but I noted he ate 2 strands of this, so I count that a win. Make an envelope out of some foil and shove in the fennel bulb, cored and thickly sliced, the juice of the other 1/2 of the lemon plus the squeezed-out half, seasoning and a good glug of white wine and a little olive oil. Bake alongside the potatoes for about 30 minutes. It comes out tender, delicious and submissive – just how you want a vegetable.
Insalata Caprese: Again a plain old tomato and mozzarella salad, but I came up with a fiendishly clever dressing. Slice or chop the tomatoes, then lay on a plate. Whisk together a good few tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, a little red wine vinegar and seasoning then drizzle over the tomatoes. Tear apart a mozzarella and lay on top, channelling Jamie Oliver as you do so. If you happen to have any fresh mint and oregano around, this is what I used, but use basil or parsley or whatever you have, just simply smash them up in a pestle and mortar, then whisk in enough extra virgin to make a loose dressing and some seasoning, then drizzle over the cheese.
Beans al’Italia: When we went to Florence many years ago, on our first night we had authentic Florence bistecca and white beans on the side. Dead simple, absolutely perfect and a bugger to recreate ever since. I may have come up with a second-best, given I am using canned and not fresh or dried. (If you do have either of the latter, then can I direct you to Jamie’s Italy, where there is a lovely recipe). I simmered the beans very gently in quite a strong vegetable stock*, along with the zest of 1/2 a lemon, a garlic clove and some rosemary. Don’t go too fast or too long or they’ll break up. Once they’re soft and heated through, season and set aside. You won’t need all the liquor, so just spoon them out onto plates to serve.
The steak I simply griddled to medium-rare, so I won’t bore you with the details. Serve along a table interspersed with wine bottles and candles for full effect. Don’t forget bread for all the juices. We didn’t have any and I regret it still.
NB: Any leftover beans are delicious heated up with a spoonful of cream and served on toast the next day.
*I hate to boast but I am so proud of this thriftiness. My veg stock actually came from cooking MCD Jr’s noodles, chicken and veg for lunch; I simply saved the cooking liquor for the beans with all its ready-made flavour. I rock. You have my permission to use a stock cube.