Summertime and the Grilling is Easy

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODWith Fourth of July weekend on the horizon, I know many of you will be grilling for the holiday celebration. Wanted to take this post to share one of my favorite grilled recipes: Bistecca Fiorentina.  Also called Bistecca alla Fiorentina or Bistecca Florentine, it is the signature charcoal-grilled steak of Italy’s Tuscan region. I consider myself fortunate to have tasted “the real thing” in perhaps the most perfect of settings in a small Tuscan walled city while on a tour of Tuscany with my friend Nada Vergili of Nada’s Italy several years ago.

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The view of the moon rising over the horizon in Tuscany as we enjoyed our 2011 true Italian “steak night” and my first taste of Bistecca Fiorentina

As food memories go, this one is a favorite – we dined at sunset, on the restaurant’s outdoor patio, a roof of tiny white lights the only thing separating us from the soon-to-be starlit sky. The view was perfect, the company divine and the food, oh the food. The precursor to the steak was a pasta course of blue cheese, pear and walnut ravioli and I can still taste it melting in my mouth, but that recipe I will save for another day – on to the grilling.

For authentic Bistecca one must grill over hot charcoals and must use a cut of beef from Italian cattle called Chianina, perhaps one of the oldest breeds of cattle originally raised in the  Chiana region of Tuscany.  In addition to being one of the oldest breeds in the world, it is also one of the largest, so it follows that steaks cut from the Chanina cows are also quite large. The cut used for authentic bistecca is  the porterhouse , a large, thick cut of a t-bone that separates a full tenderloin round from the top sirloin steak we call a New York Strip. In Italy these large porterhouses are massive and will feed a crowd.

IMG_2194Short of being in Italy with access to the breed of Chianina beef, this recipe is worth seeking out a porterhouse of high quality, trimmed beef – the steak I have pictured here came from The Peach Stand in Ft Mill SC, where they have a specialty butcher shop full of a wonderful selection of Certified Angus Beef Brand and local grass fed beef. In determining how much steak you will need for your Get-Your -Grill-On Crowd, know that, generally speaking, a porterhouse is plenty for 2 ,maybe 3, to share.

As with most cooking in Italy, this classic recipe is written as it should be, to simply bring the flavor to the beef to the forefront. To that end, ingredients here are few and of very high quality. Excellent olive oil, high quality salt and pepper and fresh cut rosemary are all it takes. If you have a charcoal grill ( set to burn with real chemical-free charcoal – no lighter fluid, please) you’ll get the addition of the fabulous flavor the charcoal adds to your crusty sear, as they do in Italy; but if you are without charcoal, don’t dismay,  this recipe is also delicious done over a gas flame or in a pinch in a grill pan on your cooktop.

IMG_2196Prepare the steak ahead of time, giving the flavors of the olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary enough time to blend and penetrate the beef. I like to rub the steaks with a salt and pepper blend of coarse pink Himalayan salt and a pepper blend I grind myself and aptly have dubbed Heidi’s Hot Pepper Blend. I purchase the pink Himalayan salt and a trio or peppercorns: Lampong, Tellicherry and Reunion Pink Peppercorns from my go-to spice source, the Savory Spice Shop in SouthEnd Charlotte. If you can’t remember the names of the peppercorns I  use for my blend, no worries, Just go in and ask for the pepper Heidi uses and Amy, Scott or any of their very knowledgeable staff will get you just what you need. I grind the peppercorns ( equal parts of each variety) until they are a course mix in my coffee grinder with no worries about spicy coffee the next day.

To clean the grinder, simply follow the peppercorns with a tablespoon of coffee beans.  Here is all you have to do: once you have ground the pepper, take it out of the grinder,  and set it aside for your recipe or future use – I usually grind about a third of a cup at a time. Once all of the ground pepper is out of the grinder, add in a tablespoon of any whole bean or ground coffee. Let the grinder run for a minute or so and then discard that batch of ground coffee. Here is how it works, the coffee acts like a filter and will clean the taste and aroma of the peppercorns – or any other whole spice – from the grinder. No need for a separate spice grinder at all!

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As for the olive oil, select a fruity flavorful variety. I frequently pull my favorites from the current harvest selection at Pour Olive on East Blvd, but have also recently discovered another great Greek variety of oil locally bottled by a family in Waxhaw, NC.   Olive Crate’s wonderful organic  late harvest extra virgin, eco-sustainable Kores Olive oil comes from Greek Manaki olives grown by their family in Greece. The oil as well as a selection of vinegars can be found at the Saturday morning Waxhaw Farmers’ Market as well as at the charming little farm store at Grace Roots Farm on Providence Road, less than a mile from the Waxhaw market location. The flavor of this Greek oil is superb – do check them out!

Time to Get your Grill On…

IMG_2202Now that you’ve got everything you need, lets get back to the prep and the grilling. Its easy-peasy from here and you’ll never grill a steak any other way. For those who don’t eat beef, I’ve also had excellent results using the same technique with salmon. In fact in anticipation of writing this post and my coordinating segment on Charlotte Today, my husband Tom and I enjoyed my version of Salmon Fiorentina just last night with a side of local Tom Thumb potatoes from New Town Farms, beens from Tega Hill Farm and first of the summer tomatoes from A Way of Life Farm all tossed with a bit of the Kores Olive oil and my homemade pesto.

IMG_2198Marinate the salmon, the same way as the beef – chop the rosemary together with the salt and pepper to make a rub and rub it into the top side of the fish fillet, or onto both sides of the porterhouse.  Add the olive oil  and rub over the fish or beef as well. Allow to sit for at least an hour for the fish – best overnight in the fridge for the beef, or if you forget to do it the night before, at least of couple of  hours unrefrigerated;  and then simply put the steak or fish on the grill. Cooking times and temperatures follow.

Heidi’s Bistecca or Salmon Fiorentina

4 long sprigs of fresh rosemary, stripped and minced

5-6 sprigs of fresh Thyme leaves, stripped and minced ( optional, not a part of the traditional recipe, but a flavorful addition)

1 ( 2 1/2 lb.) porterhouse steak or wild salmon filet

1/4 ( or less) cup your favorite extra virgin olive oil

coarse pink sea salt and Heidi’s pepper blend to taste

2 lemons cut into wedges

Rub the steak or salmon with a mix of the fresh herbs and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Allow to marinate a room temperature for at least 1 hour. Season steak ofr salmon to taste with salt and pepper.

Grill -preferable over charcoal 5-10 mins per side for the steak depending on your desired degree of doneness, or use the “10-minute” rule for the fish – 10 minutes over a hot flame for each inch of thickness.

Dress both steak and fish with a quick squirt of lemon and serve garnished with fresh rosemary…enjoy! It really is that easy!

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To go along with this post you can watch the television version of the recipe in my monthly cooking segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today, originally filmed the morning of June 30, 2016 at 11:29 am. In case you missed the original air time, here is the link to the video of the Bistecca Fiorentina Cooking segment, enjoy!

GotTobeNC Competition Dining is in Greensboro

comp dining promoPutting my Competition Dining hat  on this week for the second Triad event of 2016 GotToBeNC Competition Dining series.

Last month we competed in a very successful series Winston-Salem and this week we are in Greensboro, NC.  One preliminary battle under our belts and a second scheduled for this evening with the regional finale on Thursday of this week, its fast and furious, but its been exciting as we have gotten the week in Greensboro underway.

 

Proximity Hotel photoWorking with our area lodging partner Proximity Hotel in GSO has afforded me the opportunity to experience all that America’s first Green Hotel has to offer.Proximity Hotel is the first hotel in America to receive the LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Its really quite a feat, hot water heated by solar panels, energy created my the motion of the elevators, well groomed plants and gardens all around – this is environmentally friendly done right in a luxurious setting that is down to the last detail – next time you visit Greensboro it is definitely one of the places you should stay!

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Chefs from Undercurrent and The Hobnob with Competition Dining founder and host Jimmy Crippen and Jamie Hinson from 2016 sponsor Goodnight Brothers Country Hams

A trio of our sponsors, Goodnight Brothers Country Hams, the Greensboro CVB, and Joyce Farms, hosts our chefs to pre-battle breakfasts this week all at the Proximity’s Print Works Bistro – a charming cafe located on the lower level of the hotel. The restaurant is surrounded by gardens, the interiors are understated yet elegantly comfortable and the food is excellent. the green concept goes to the restaurant and kitchen as well with water cooled refrigeration and more. 

IMG_1624My first night in town I opted for a simple dinner at the Print Works bar –  I started with what may well be my new summer cocktail for the 2016 season -a French 702- a refreshingly delicious sip of gin, St Germain, lemony simple syrup and sparkling wine, oh my!  as I was in the mood  for just a bite or too – Printworks tomato and arugula flatbread,  and a bowl of incredible chilled cucumber soup  made for the  perfect “wind down meal after a busy day of traveling” repast and just another reason to visit Greensboro!

Competition Dining Greensboro Preliminaries

Four very talented teams will compete in the course of the trio of Competition Dining dinners in Greensboro.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 10.03.28 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-20 at 10.02.56 PMLast night, the first night of the competition, hometown  chefs Michael Harkenreader, Noah Sheets & Chris Rosato , “Team Wiley Pickle Weasels” from Undercurrent Restaurant in Greensboro took on a trio of talent  found in chefs Matt Montandon, Donald Francis and Justin Neal all a part of “Team Hobnob”, the dream team from The Hobnob Restaurant  and Jordan Street Cafe, both in Brevard NC. It was battle Miso and Mushrooms – an evening of umami!

misoThe two  featured “Secret Ingredients ” for this flavorful evening both have North Carolina roots. The first a product one might be surprised to be a locally produced ingredient – traditional Japanese miso! Got To Be NC  organic, GMO and gluten free misos from Miso Masters Miso,  produced by North Carolina’s own The American Miso Company located in the foothills of Western North Carolina in the town Rutherfordton, NC. Who’d of thunk it?  But its true, in fact, for more culinary offings from Rutherfordton – check out the link at the end of this post; but, in the meantime, make no mistake, this miso is indeed the real thing, produced with care and quality beyond reproach. The American Miso Company is the largest producer of  traditional miso in the world and is proud to  produce high quality traditional misos, aged naturally ( sometimes for years) using traditional ingredients. Miso Masters makes 7 different varieties of traditional miso ( available to consumers  – as well as chefs – at area EarthFare and Whole Foods stores.

correct mushroom photoAlong with the Miso, the Undercurrent and Hobnob Competition Dining chefs also had six different varieties of locally grown wild mushrooms all from a relatively new Charlotte-based mushroom farm called Urban Gourmet Farms based in Charlotte NC.  I’ve written an article on this mushrooming operation for the Summer issue of Charlotte Living Magazine, on Charlotte area newsstands  and online soon, so look for more to come, but suffice to say that these mushrooms are some of the best locally grown product I have ever seen and many Charlotte area chefs agree. I was personally thrilled to be able to bring Urban Gourmet Farms into the Competition Dining series in hope that chefs across the state would be exposed to the quality and the flavor of this wonderful product.

Six Miso and Mushrooms plates later the first evening of Competition Dining ended with the win  going to long time competitor chef Michael Harkenreader and Team Wiley Pickle Weasels from Undercurrents restaurant in Greensboro. After having tasted Michaels talent for several years of Competition Dining I am excited to eat at Undercurrents soon; but  will also be planning a trip to Brevard as I was so impressed with the skill and talent of the team from The Hobnob.

That’s the thing about these Competition Dining dinners held across the state and why I love being on the core team that plans, promotes and executes these regional series. Not only does each series -held this year in Durham, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Raleigh, Charlotte and Wilmington – expose diners to a tremendous amount of locally grown, raised, caught and made local product, produce and protein; but it also exposes Competition Dining guests – and our thousands of followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – to a vast array of culinary talent in our state.

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I Love bringing together farmers at all of our Competition Dining events, here we have Michelle Smith and Hiram Ramirez from Urban Gourmet Farms with Randy Lewis from Ran-Lew Dairy

I always look for every opportunity to incorporate local farms into the mix and the Competition Dining pantry provided by our sponsors at Pate Dawson Southern Foods. This week in Greensboro I am proud to have worked with Competition Dining Chef Ref Chad Blackwelder to have brought produce from The Specialty Farmer, from the Waxhaw Farmers Market in Waxhaw NC; Rabbit from Clearview Farms from Lincolnton, NC and squash blossoms from Tega Hill Farms in Tega Hill, SC and of course Urban Gourmet Farms mushrooms into the Competition Dining pantry. In addition I have loved working with dairy farmer Randy Lewis from Ran -Lew Dairy to provide pint sized packages of his exquisite cream top whole and chocolate milk for our birthday gifts for this week!

Looking for your next new place for a spectacular meal, I encourage you to visit the Competition Dining website at CompetitionDining.com  and take a look at all of this year competitors for a list of some of the best restaurants in North Carolina.

In addition to my work with Competition Dining, this year I am working on a series of 3Day Weekend articles, taking in all the sites in each region as we compete  and will be sure to include all of these chefs and restaurant details in each article or post.

More Competition Dining Greensboro to come

comp dining promoBut last night was just the beginning in Greensboro. The second preliminary battle takes place this evening – Tuesday June 21 – and tickets are still available. Another team of Greensboro locals -chefs from Sedgefield Country Club, “Team Culinary Crushers” will take on “Team The Natives” from Native Kitchen and Social Pub from Swannanoa, North Carolina. Tickets for this second preliminary battle are still available – just click here to go directly to the reservation page

But wait, there’s more….If you would like to attend the Greensboro Finale on Thursday June 23, to see who takes it all and who gets to wear the coveted red chefs jacket, those tickets may still be purchased here

For the Rest of the Story, subscribe to this blog and follow me at HeidiBillottoFood.com. Heidi Billotto or Heidi Billotto Cooks on Facebook, @HeidiCooks on Twitter and @HeidiBillotto on Instagram

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOOD

For more about attending a Got to Be Nc Competition Dining event, in Greensboro this week, In Raleigh next month, in Charlotte in August or in Wilmington in September, simply visit CompetitionDining.com and click on the icon for each city – competing chefs and brackets are announced about a month out of each series.

If you would be interested in being a sponsor for the 2016 season of Competition Dining its still not too late to use this fun and exciting format to connect with North Carolina chefs and guests alike, and it just so happens that I am the person to talk to abut setting up a sponsorship for you your product or your company – just give me a shout at Heidi@CompetitionDining.com

For more on great eats  in Rutherfordton NC , check out an article I wrote for the Lake lure and Blue Ridge Foothills website and find out why I think the best burger may be found at the Rutherfordton County Airport! Here you go…

For more on Undercurrent Restaurant in Greensboro, visit Undercurrent.com Undercurrent Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

For more on The Hobnob in Brevard, NC, visit HobnobBrevard.com Hobnob Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato ; For more on Jordan Street Cafe in Brevard, NC, visit TheJordanStreetCafe.com Jordan Street Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

For more on Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, visit Sedgefieldcc.com

For more on Native Kitchen and Social Pub in Swannanoa, NC, visit NativeSocialPub.com Native Kitchen & Social Pub Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

For more on The Proximity Hotel and Printworks Bistro, visit  ProximityHotel.com Print Works Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

To see how Miso Master Miso is made, watch this informative video to get the whole story – great stuff!

For more info on Urban Gourmet Farms mushrooms, visit UrbanGourmetFarms.com – check out the story I wrote for Charlotte Living Magazine online at CharlotteLivingMagazine.com in the next couple of weeks!

For more info on Ran-Lew Dairy, visit  Ranlewdairymilkco.webstarts.com

And stay tuned for more about planning a Three Day Weekend in Greensboro, but if you just can’t wait, check out the website at Visit Greensboro – lots of great ideas for places to stay, places to visit and places to eat!