First time I tasted carpaccio was at an upscale Italian restaurant in one of the western suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, our home town for more than a decade. It was presented on a big, narrow, cream-colored oval plate, and it looked stunning; thin, red pieces of beef tenderloin, perky dark green arugula, curlicues of shaved parmigiano, yellow-green comas of extra virgin olive oil, and dark-brown droplets of balsamico painted a picture that reminded me of Caravaggio and his beautiful contrasts.
I was seduced by its clean, simple taste from the first slender bite. Of course, those were the days of promises, when the tears were easily hidden in a glass of good Sicilian Primitivo and the future always overrode the present. But the flavor of carpaccio was not emphasized by euphoria and hope; it was truly good and memorable.
Contrary to what some members of my family may think, I am a geek, and I started researching carpaccio, wondering if I could make it at home, satisfying my inner hedonist as well as my inner frugal self. What I found out did not surprise me: the most important thing is ensuring the superb quality of each ingredient.
From that day on, I stopped ordering carpaccio in restaurants. I mastered the technique of preparing it myself, and it became my favorite starter for a dinner party, providing my guests were not of a squeamish and non-adventurous sort that eye everything not burned and charred as inedible.
I buy my beef tenderloin at a local Persian store where the young Mexican butcher knows me well. I talk to him in my rudimentary Spanish, trying to practice as much as I can, even though he speaks perfect English. I tip him a dollar or two every time I buy something from his counter and he always brings me the best and the freshest cuts from the back of the store.
I splurged a long while ago on a bottle of thick, fragrant balsamic vinegar and I use it extremely sparingly for special occasions, treating it with more reverence than a bottle of VSOP Courvoisier. I purchase only the authentic, aged Parmigiano Reggiano which resides wrapped in luxurious layers of thick paper towels neatly enclosed in a ziploc bag.
When it comes to olive oil, I usually fall back to the old and familiar and anything that was produced in the Mediterranean will be more than sufficient to meet the standards (my standards have to do more with memories of sweet, hot nights spent under the olive tree branches in Croatia, Montenegro, and Italy, than with the intricate process of extracting the best olive oil).
This time, though, I abandoned my tried and true and used Pompeian Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the first one in its category to receive the USDA Quality Monitored seal, which verifies the quality and purity of olive oil through rigorous government testing and reviews of production processes. It’s low in acid due to first pressing of great quality olives, fragrant and beautifully colored.
A big platter of cold beef sprinkled with briny cheese and bitter arugula, and dotted with sweet vinegar and robust olive oil made for a perfect repast on a day when the Santa Ana winds brought the heat back to southern California. I don’t have an ancient olive tree in my yard, but the smell of the ocean at twilight when the sun is dipping bellow the horizon is enough to send me back to those sultry Adriatic nights that will forever keep on bringing a smile to my face.
- Beef tenderloin
- Aged parmigiano reggiano
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp good quality balsamic vinegar
- arugula and/or other dark greens
1. Wrap the meat in plastic and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.
2. Unwrap and slice thinly against the grain with a sharp knife.
3. Place the pieces between two layer of plastic wrap and beat with a meat mallet until paper thin.
4. Layer the pieces of thin meat on a platter.
5. Scatter the greens on top.
6. Dot with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
7. Shave the cheese on top evenly.
8. Serve with a glass of hearty, Italian red wine (not necessarily Sicilian Primitivo)
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Thank you Smiley360 for a complimentary bottle of Pompeian Extra Virgin Olive Oil.