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!

Anyone can cook, let Heidi Billotto show you how to make it fun – 2014 kicks off with Eleven Fabulous Cooking Classes!

cooking class with Nadacropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgIt’s always a blast! My Cooking Classes are held at my South Charlotte home in my kitchen. Once you make your reservations I will send out directions to our home,  its all hands on unless you’d rather just sit and watch, enjoy, eat and drink, which is fine, too. Wine parings with every dish, recipes packets and wine notes for each class participant. Cost is $65 – $75 per person. Class size is limited – your advance reservations via email gets you on the class list and advance payment confirms your space in class. To make your reservations for any of these classes – or to plan a private cooking class or teambuilding event of your own, just email me at HLNC@carolina.rr.com and we’ll get it set up.

tables set for cooking classMy unique On the Farm Classes are held at various farms in and around Charlotte.
 Each On The Farm class includes a walking Farm Tour and then we settle into the farm kitchen to cook with ( and eat!)  whatever is in season.    You really just have to experience these classes for yourself, there is indeed something quite special about being on all these local farms…

Class size is limited depending upon the size of the farm. At each farm we cook and eat and drink and you and your fellow classmates can watch or lend a hand if you’d like and together will learn to chop, slice, simmer and saute along the way.

So,  now that you know how it works…Lets Get Cooking!!!

Roman Holiday – Food and Wine of Rome with guest Nada Vergili of Nada’s Italy.                                 Wednesday Jan 15, 6:30-9:30 pm.

Nada Vergili of Nada's Italy

Nada Vergili of Nada’s Italy

Want to travel to Rome? Nada’s tours are fabulous and when you do go to Rome, you should plan the trip through Nada. But for now, why not just attend my Roman Holiday cooking class with my special guest Nada Vergili of Nada’s Italy-Tours!  These hands -on cooking classes with Nada are always great fun.                                                    We’ll all cook, enjoy food and wine of Italy ( in this case of Rome and surrounds in particular) and then Nada will teach us all some fun Italian phrases and a little bit about this wonderful and historic region.                                                                    

The classic Roman entrée, Porchetta

The classic Roman entrée, Porchetta

On the menu: we’ll kick things off with a negroni cocktail, but make it a bit more local by using TOPO Distillery certified organic gin from Chapel Hill! Then we’ll prepare cacao e pepe – a fabulous pasta dish with pecorino romano and cracked pepper; a pasta and chick pea soup; porchetta made from local pork shoulder from A Way of Life Farm in Bostic NC and a nutella tiramisu for dessert – Italian wines to pair with each course provided by my friend Josh Villapando at the Assorted Table Wine Shoppe.

Cost is $75 per person, class runs from 6:30-9:30 – printed recipe packet and wine notes for all participants.    To Join us for your Roman Holiday, simply email me at hlnc@carolina.rr.com to make your reservation – Ciao!

gluten freeSat Jan 18 – Gluten Free Gourmet –
11am – 2:30 pm
Now here’s a class I’ve been wanting to offer for some time and so excited to finally have it on the books – an entire dinner meal – all gluten free – with easy substitutions and a host of new products with which to work; plus we’ll adding fresh and local product from this morning’s farmers’ markets. Wine pairings with each course, of course!
Cost is $65 email Heidi at hlnc@carolina.rr.com to make your advance reservations

pieSunday Jan 19 -The Apple of My Pie – 1-4 pm
Nothing more fun than baking in the winter and filling the kitchen with warm wonderful aromas, This afternoon the concentration will be on pies – 4 different from scratch crusts with sweet and savory fillings and an easy way to make pie for a crowd with the refrigerator crust you just unroll and bake.
Cost is $65 email Heidi at hlnc@carolina.rr.com to make your advance reservations

grillSunday Jan 26 – On the Winter Grill –  At Home with Heidi – 1-4 pm
This is a fun seasonal At Home with Heidi Class everyone will love. Local chicken, pork, beef and veggies all on the grill. Class covers basic grilling techniques, marinades, dry rubs and more. You’ll  be good to grill for any occasion after this fun and flavorful and informative class. Lots of tips and tricks to help you achieve grilling perfection. On the menu – grilled antipasto veggies and house marinated olives, tuna burgers with grilled jalapeno and cilantro pesto,  dry rub bbq chicken with tabouli,  grilled from scratch sausage biscuits and a fun  grilled dessert you are going to love. Wine pairings with each dish, of course!
Cost is $65 email Heidi at hlnc@carolina.rr.com to make your advance reservations

eiffle towerTues Jan 28 – French Dressing – 6:30-9:30 pm – At Home with Heidi
A Winter spin on a delicious Food and Wine of France menu. Wine pairings, techniques for making sauces, braising and more
Cost is $65 email Heidi at hlnc@carolina.rr.com to make your advance reservations

may 2013 007Feb 1 – Superbowl Spread On the Farm at Tega Hills Farms – 3-6:30 pm
Come prep for the big game in the warmth of Tega Hill’s hydroponic greenhouses in Ft. Mill and we use all Mark and Mindy Robinson of Tega Hill grow and have in season. Farm tour and cooking class with wine and some local beer pairings, too!
Cost is $75 email Heidi at hlnc@carolina.rr.com to make your advance reservations

wines of spainTuesday Feb 4 – Food and Wine of Spain – 6:30-9:30 pm
Hands -on class – At Home with Heidi- a complete meal from tapas to dessert with regional wine parings with each dish
Cost is $65 email Heidi at hlnc@carolina.rr.com to make your advance reservations

breadSat Feb 8 – Bread baking 101- 11 am – 3pm -At Home with Heidi
This is the winter therapy you’ll knead to keep you happy! Nothing like baking your own bread and I’ll share several tips and tricks to make it easy and fun; using recipes from my own collection and some from several of my favorite bread baking books –
Cost is $65 email Heidi at hlnc@carolina.rr.com to make your advance reservations

december 2013 076Tues Feb 11 – On the Bone with local beer pairings -At Home with Heidi- 6:30-9:30 pm
A fun twist on one of my favorite classes – we are cooking local beef, pork, lamb and chicken all on the bone and then pairing each dish with a local Winter beer – Eat Local – Drink Local
Cost is $75 email Heidi at hlnc@carolina.rr.com to make your advance reservations

Nada Vergili of Nada's Italy

Nada Vergili of Nada’s Italy

Sat Feb 15 – The Annual That’s Amore cooking class with Nada Vergili of Nada’s Italy – 5:30-9:30 pm
This At Home with Heidi class is always a quick sell out – so make your reservations soon -Nada is back with us for a food and wine of Italy class for you and your Valentine; although you can come as a single or with friends too. We’ll cook a full meal, share Italian wine pairings and Nada will fill us in on some fun and flirtatious Italian pillow talk – good anytime of the year!
Cost is $75 email Heidi at hlnc@carolina.rr.com to make your advance reservations

Sammy and Melinda Koenigsberg of New Town Farms

Sammy and Melinda Koenigsberg of New Town Farms

Sat March 8 – On the Farm at New Town Farms                        11 am – 4 pm                                                                       Veggies and heritage breed chickens and pigs are just a few of things you’ll see on this fabulous family farm in Waxhaw NC. So happy to be cooking once again with my good friends, local farmers Sammy and Melinda Koenigsberg.  This class begins in the kitchen as we prepare a menu
of recipes featuring New Town’s  chicken and eggs in addition to all that is ripe
and ready to pick in  the field. After we cook – and eat and drink – we’ll enjoy
a walking farm tour with our gracious hosts where we will meet the pasture raised
chickens and heritage breed  pigs and  learn about the ins and outs of farming acres
of wonderful produce.  Sammy will share with us his philosophy of farming and sustainability
and the importance of knowing how what we eat is grown and is raised.  Its more
than just a farm tour and cooking class – it’s an event that will change the way
you think about where your food comes from. Cost is $75 email Heidi to make your advance reservations at hlnc@carolina.rr.com

bosky acres baby goatsSat March 22 – On the Farm at Bosky Acres – 11 am – 4 pm.                                                                                               Join me and meet Bosky Acres’ owner Michele Lamb and her oh-so-friendly herd of goats at the farm – including the group of new born kids who you can bottle feed if you would like.  its the only cooking class in twon  where you will learn how to milk a goat and how Michele makes her delicious fresh chevre. As the cheese process takes place, I will cook four different dishes – appetizers, entrees and a dessert – all using Bosky Acres tasty chevre and feta cheese.  Menu to come  – so happy to be at Bosky Acres once again!. Farm tour and cooking class- Cost is $65. For reservations, simply email Heidi at hlnc@carolina.rr.com