Who said steaks should be relegated to the weekend and the grill? This one not only bypasses the grill, but it also comes together entirely in one pan. On a weeknight, that’s a pretty heavenly combination.
When I was in college, my best friend had been an exchange student in Italy while in high school. She described a dinner she had often with her host family that translated as Pizza Maker’s Steak. It was right around the time that I was starting to experiment with my great love, food, in tandem with studying French literature. And setting food on fire in front of an audience was very heady stuff. After some experimentation, we settled into this recipe as being as close as she could remember to her Italian favorite. It was certainly a celebratory dinner in those days – end of quarter, huge paper finished, close to graduation. These days, it’s a way of celebrating a weeknight, because sometimes it’s getting through a weekday that needs celebrating.
The steak: we used flank steak because it was
relatively inexpensive pretty cheap, though still an indulgence for students. A flatiron works wonderfully also, as does a bison steak because of its natural sweetness, which pairs beautifully with the cream and contrasts with the tartness of the olives.
The olives: we used plain old green pimento-stuffed 0lives we might have used to make martinis if we could have afforded to. Use whatever your favorite is. I love a blend of French olives from my local deli-wine store; it comes packed in a thick vinaigrette heavy on the olive oil and scented with thyme. Remember, this is likely what the pizza maker made for dinner at the end of the night with his favorite flavors, when he couldn’t face the thought of another pizza, so don’t be afraid to improvise.
What to serve it over? She said it was typically served over slices of grilled bread (or pizza dough, perhaps). I’ve also used a brown and wild rice blend, even mashed potatoes during winter. But for summer, I love to use a leafy green base: endive, kale, chard. Whichever you prefer, trim the stems, then slice the greens into ribbons 1″ wide. When the steak is just about at the end of its rest period, return the skillet to medium heat. When the sauce is simmering, add the greens and stir about with some tongs. Don’t overcook the greens! Bear in mind that chard will cook the quickest, followed by kale and endive, in that order. Don’t overcook the greens! All you’re trying to do is warm them, tenderize them a bit, and coat them liberally with the wonderful sauce.
Pizza Maker’s Steak
Serves 2 with leftovers
1 flank or flatiron steak, about 1 pound
Olive oil to film the skillet
Kosher or sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 handful (about 3/4 cup) of your favorite green olives, rough chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
4 ounces white vermouth
6 ounces heavy cream
Handful of Italian parsley, chopped
1 bunch of your favorite greens (chard, kale, endive), stems removed, cut into 1″ ribbons
- Remove steak from refrigerator an hour before you plan to cook it so that it can come closer to room temp. It will be less shocked when you toss it into a hot pan, and therefore more tender. Salt it generously. The salt will be absorbed by the water in the steak, and will result in the meat retaining moisture when cooked, and will be very tender for your efforts. It may sound counterintuitive, but try it and see what you think.
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
- Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to film. When it shimmers, place steak in pan. Season with fresh ground pepper, but not any more salt. Sear to brown nicely on both sides, 4 minutes per side. Set the skillet in the oven. The steak wants to finish in the oven for about 10 minutes, so gauge your time accordingly.
- Remove skillet from oven and transfer the steak to a cutting board. Drape a piece of plastic over it, then cover it with a couple of kitchen towels. Cooking stresses protein cells and forces water to their outsides. If cooked at too high a heat for too long, that free water cooks away, leaving a dry, uninteresting piece of meat behind. With meats, the rest period allows the cell walls to relax, and when they do, water roaming around outside reinflates the cells. When you slice into the meat, there should be not gush of fluid from it if you properly cooked and rested it. Allow steak to rest for 5 minutes while you prepare the sauce.
- To prepare the sauce, add a bit more olive oil to the skillet. When hot, add the olives and sauté until very fragrant. Add the minced garlic and red pepper flakes and again sauté until fragrant.
- Raise heat to high. Add white vermouth, stand back, and flambé with a match or fire starter. When flames subside, reduce heat to low and add cream. Simmer gently until resulting sauce is slightly thickened and reduced by about half half.
- Add the greens and toss them around in the sauce to tenderize. Use tongs to divide them between plates.
- To serve the steak, slice across the grain in 1/2″ thick slices, holding the knife at about a 45 degree angle. Fan them over the greens and spoon some of the sauce over the top. Garnish with parsley.