italian steak night

April 18th, 2009 · 44 Comments

it all began around a little jar of this…

mostarda mediterranean – from dario cecchini the eccentric tuscan butcher from panzano.

did you read ‘heat‘? god, i loved that book. bill buford writes about the years that he left his job as fiction editor at ‘new yorker magazine’ and worked unpaid in the kitchen of batali’s acclaimed babbo ristorante, and then, with both affection and a rhetorical shoulder shrug, introduces us to dario, a dante-quoting, opera singing character from the chianti region of tuscany. cecchini appears to be a one-of-a-kind, to say the very least, and his macellaria has now become a tourist attraction where countless foodies make the pilgrimage to hopefully catch a glimpse of this etruscan figure performing entire cantos from the inferno before his carnivorous audience.

and i suppose because even a butcher has to eat, dario cecchini is now offering some of his goods right here in the states. and me, being susceptible to such things was quick to grab a jar of this mostarda as soon as i laid my eyes upon it. $30. if only for the story…

and then over dinner one evening with my friend laura, a local chef here in town, i was telling her about my recent mostarda acquisition. and so we decided to do a dinner. a steak dinner as dario would have wanted. as tempted as i was to buy the grass fed lobel’s steaks because they have in the past blown my mind, the price is overly exorbitant. so i researched and clicked my way to heritage foods usa where i was able to come up with something a bit more apropo…

"Piedmontese cattle originated in the foothills of northwestern Italy and are thought to be a mix of the Auroch and Zebu cattle crossed over 25,000 years ago. We are especially fond of this breed, because Piedmont is also home to the Slow Food movement in Bra, Italy. Today, in the United States, a network of family farmers is raising the cattle on a pure vegetarian feed without the use of antibiotics and without added growth hormones.

Piedmontese is unique in that it contains myostatin, known as the "double muscle gene." Myostatin is only found in Piedmontese cattle and results in a natural tenderness. Though the beef is naturally lean, the flavor is rich and intense.

i tell you, i amaze myself sometimes. in keeping with the whole spirit of dario’s mostarda, i’d managed to find the perfect beef for it to accompany. and unlike lobel’s, it was palitably priced – and well, this was going to be fun.

i sent laura the link to "the jar" so she could see specifically what i was talking about and her response succinctly read, "dude, it’s pepper jelly". and really, that it was. except not nearly as hot as was promised. this "elixir’, as it was referrred to, rated pretty mild on the heat scale. but nevertheless, it was quite nice. and the steaks? well, they were ok. nothing special. i think dario would have blown a gasket had he tried them. the word is that he takes his meat very, very seriously.

oh, and did i mention the beautiful ramps that were foraged in ohio and then sent to my door? they were grilled with salt, pepper and olive oil. or what about the artichoke hearts, painstakingly cut, peeled and choked, then braised in olive oil, lemon, shallots, coriander and fennel seeds – all because of a dish i saw over at smitten kitchen a few weeks ago? did i tell you about those? no? i’m so sorry, because they were very good.

and there was much more. it was even perhaps a bit over the top. there were pizzas flying out of my oven and pig liver pate wrapped in homecured bacon and the most incredible homemade blood sausage… and then there was the grilled watermelon dripping with balsamic vinegar (all of the aforementioned from chris) and laura showed up with orange fennel meringues that were truly perfection, along with a dreamy panna cotta. and i think i’m forgetting a few things, but well, it’s been a little while…

there were 9 of us huddled around my kitchen banquette that evening. i have a pretty good size dining room with a table that seats 10 easily, but no one ever left the kitchen.

for the record, earlier that very same day, i had a late brunch at my house and made a perfect carbonara for 3 friend – with guanciale, farm fresh eggs, pecorino, grana padano, and finely chopped ramps.

beginning monday, the following morning i literally drank nothing but tea with lemon and agave, along with one protein shake a day – for 5 days straight.

true story.

Tags: beef · vegetables

44 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Marc @ NoRecipes // Apr 18, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    Wow that looks delightful. Grilling ramps is my favourite way to have them. There’s a park not far away that literally has fields of ramps. You could forage some yourself when you’re out here and bring them back with you:-)

  • 2 lo // Apr 18, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    … and what a story it was.
    And the feasting. It was glorious. And the company, even better. These are the days we dream about. And blog about. And it is good.

    ramps = jealous
    I am afraid I won’t see any around these parts this year, and I am very sad.

  • 3 Robert // Apr 18, 2009 at 8:06 pm


    That is some pretty impressive peeling there. Deb may well be right, artichokes done right might well be the best food on earth.

  • 4 krysta // Apr 18, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    i just ate dinner and i am now hungry… again.

    shaking my fist at you from the other side of the usa… can you here me yelling… damn you, ceF!!!?

    all joking aside… that is my kind of meal.

  • 5 krysta // Apr 18, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    hear me… not like here i am… but you knew what i meant.

  • 6 JUNE BUG // Apr 18, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    What a party. AGAIN. My life is feeling lonely.

    The mostarda looks like quite the color. I love the flavor of sweet and hot with red meat. One of my most favorite things.

  • 7 Donald // Apr 18, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    So the Piedmont-ess steaks weren’t all that? I figured the dry aged from WF would work in a pinch.

    Now the blood sausage…homemade? Can’t buy the necessary “ingredients” here in GA, it’s illegal to buy pig’s blood here. S’up with that?

    So, when you havin’ us up for some mediocre steaks?

  • 8 lisaiscooking // Apr 18, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Incredible. I was the lucky recipient of some fig mostarda my friends picked up in Florence. So good with pecorino.

  • 9 Mary Coleman // Apr 18, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    Heat…what a fantabulous book. I listened to it doing my daily walks and I was SICK about it ending. Dario was amazing. You told me about this book and it is now in my top five recommended reading to anyone that bothers to ask.
    By the way, the meal sounds to die for…ramps, pig liver pate, orange fennel meringues….
    you live the good life, don’t you!!

  • 10 Vincent // Apr 18, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    showed this post to Pedro, Daniel and Homero. What were the comments?

    “chef – why don’t you do this food anymore?”

    couldn’t answer – and I am rethinking everything now…

  • 11 Chris // Apr 19, 2009 at 1:14 am

    I had an absolute blast cooking that night. Thanks for having me over.


  • 12 The Expatresse // Apr 19, 2009 at 7:37 am

    I loved Heat.

    I could not believe that I delayed reading it for so long. I had gotten it into my head that I would not like it. Boy, was I wrong. In a good way.

  • 13 Heidi Robb // Apr 19, 2009 at 7:46 am

    Holy cow. What began as one seemingly innocent jar of mostarda….

  • 14 chefectomy // Apr 19, 2009 at 10:01 am

    You have no idea how “passionate” I found this post. Worth every penny Claudia…


  • 15 Lonnie // Apr 19, 2009 at 10:47 am

    So, I’ve been reading but never commenting and now I just wanted to say hello and tell you that your blog is wonderful. I love your writing style and your food is always exactly what i want to be eating. So blog on and I will be reading.

    I am also a big fan of Smitten Kitchen and David Liebovitz. Oh and I agree that Last Night’s Dinner has great food too!

    (But you are my favorite ;))

  • 16 maggie (p&c) // Apr 19, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    amazing. the steak looks just incredible but I would give anything for those artichokes. Yum.

  • 17 The Italian Dish // Apr 19, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    I don’t even know where to start. For one thing, I had no idea Dario was selling his stuff over here! For another thing, I love you because you love “Heat”. I read that thing three times and it was better every time I read it. I gave it to a couple of friends to read and they didn’t get it at all. Duh. The steak/vegetable dinner looks great – your artichokes are so beautifully trimmed. And last but not least, how in the hell did you go 5 days with just a protein shake a day? No way could I do that. I’m truly impressed.

  • 18 Maggie // Apr 19, 2009 at 3:34 pm


    This is lovely… and oh my, I adore mostarda. I just found some mustard oil and plan to make loads this summer with all those fresh fruits and veggies from the farm. I’ve yet to get my hands on some ramps this season. Will work on that.

    Check out my beet leaf pesto next week. I’ll be loading it in tonight. It’s purple and makes me so very happy.


  • 19 Nashville Any No Mouse // Apr 19, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Great post!
    Such fun!

    I love to read about what drives you, but I’d rather just be eating around your banquette!

  • 20 elzorro // Apr 19, 2009 at 4:32 pm


    Deer Prosciutto from chris
    Almond-cream stuffed dates wrapped in bacon from Laura
    The sesame-seed caramel brittle
    coffee from Your Guy
    And your sunshiny smile

  • 21 elzorro // Apr 19, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    I forgot, I almost pulled a W. and choked on an artichoke leaf!

  • 22 claudia // Apr 19, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    (except there were no artichoke leaves…)



    i hate laura
    i love laura
    i hate laura
    i love laura
    i love laura
    i love laura

    (thank you laura)

  • 23 Jack // Apr 19, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    As one of the lucky participants, I’d like to say it was quite the orgy of meat. Agreed, the steaks were average…though I liked the pepper jelly…oops, I mean the mostarda Mediterranean…because I’ve liked sweet with meat ever since my mother served us lamb chops with mint jelly.

    my faves: the almond-paste/bacon-wrapped dates, the artichokes, and the panna cotta, though everything rocked. I can’t even remember what was on the pizza, but I remember liking it. Claudia?

    And there was even something I could make! Grilled watermelon slices drizzled with Balsamic.

    Hats off to Chris, who’s welcome in my humble kitchen anytime.

  • 24 Mid-State Cardiology Associates // Apr 19, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Claudia, thanks for following through with our plan. Per our agreement, a check for $5,000 is in the mail. We appreciate your efforts in helping our practice to continue thriving.

  • 25 Mid-State Cardiology Associates // Apr 19, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    D’oh! I guess I shouldn’t have posted that here. How do I stop this thing?

    Folks, pay no attention to the previous post.

  • 26 Mid-State Cardiology Associates // Apr 19, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Oops. Sorry Claudia. I thought this form sent a private email directly to you. Folks, please disregard the previous post.

  • 27 maris // Apr 20, 2009 at 6:39 am

    I love anythying italian! great ideas

  • 28 rachel // Apr 20, 2009 at 6:57 am

    I wanted not to like ‘heat’ but failed so I’m with you on that one.
    I wish I was around your table (and then slumped under it) for that feast.
    Mostarda – da da da – need to send you a tin ( a beautiful tin at that) of mostarda di frutta candita made by Dondi in Cremona, it is hot and just delicious.
    top post

  • 29 ElZorro // Apr 20, 2009 at 9:02 am

    while prepping the artichoches w/ Chris, I was eating raw leaves, which caused the choking.

  • 30 kristie // Apr 20, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Mostarda=mustard, right? See! I’m practicing owning up to my bumpkinhood.

  • 31 we are never full // Apr 20, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    i do like mostarda and we have it on our list to make at some point. i feel like your friend now – serious about my beef. after being in argentina and eating beef 8 out of 10 days, well, i’m serious about my beef. if it’s shit, i’m gonna be pissed.

  • 32 Meg // Apr 20, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    I laughed at the “dude, it’s pepper jelly” reaction, even as I drooled over the meal itself. It’s hard to go wrong with steak and artichokes on the same plate.

    No way I could do the 1 protein shake + some gussied up water for 5 days straight. I don’t want to go head to head in any contests of will with you.

  • 33 Marie // Apr 20, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Girl you know how to eat!! Sugar and heat a lethel combination!!
    A girl after my own heart!

  • 34 Karen in Cleveland // Apr 20, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Heat was a great book. I agree. I think Dario would have respected your attempt at doing the right thing by his $30 mostarda, which is probably $8 in Italy. Oh well. cheaper than a plane ticket!

    By the way, I’ve been lurking too. Love your blog to death!

  • 35 Melissa // Apr 20, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    I listened. You hate Laura. Heh.

    I bet that was a true story. *Squint* You.

    I love everything about this, but especially the side note about the ramps. Ramps! Would never have known and loved them if not for you, my friend. Your whole plate is magnificent.

  • 36 claudia // Apr 20, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    melissa – no i LOVE laura. but those dates should have been illegal. they were out of this world. great party food. but almost over the top. like you just wanted to eat 15 of them. it’s never the kind of food that i make but i ask myself WHY? because it’s 3 ingredients that are amazing together.

  • 37 Rachel (S[d]OC) // Apr 21, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    I’m sorry that steak wasn’t all that. I literally gasped when I saw the photo (and I am at my desk at work, which really drew some stares).

    All that food just sounds wonderful. I need an invitation to your house pronto!

    I need to take you to a little farm in NW NJ, just about an our outside of NYC that sells its own steaks. I’m wondering how they would compare. I think they’re the best steaks I have ever had. Unfortunately, they’re not open for the season yet.

    This is my year to try ramps!

  • 38 Melissa // Apr 21, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    I knew what you meant goofy. :) I ask myself that all the time about trying simple things. Hell, I’ve never even tried prosciutto with melon. Though isn’t it passe at this point? Ha.

  • 39 goodfoodmatters // Apr 21, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    what a feast! the steak-mostarda was the centerpiece, but all the other players, especially
    the ramps, the ‘chokes, and the little almond paste-date delights are calling out to me…

  • 40 Marco in Italia // Apr 21, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Hello! I just got off work and it is very late or very early. I live in Florence and I just found your blog today. Maybe a trip to Panzano is in my future. Nice to meet you. Your food looks interesting. We are very spoiled here.

  • 41 democommie // Apr 23, 2009 at 7:37 pm


    It all sounds wonderful, but the beans that I had in your kitchen were as good as it gets as far as I’m concerned!

  • 42 LWilson // Apr 27, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Ooh, I’m glad I got more loves than hates! I catered an affair last Sunday and served the dates. Again, a success.

  • 43 Peter // Apr 30, 2009 at 6:10 am

    It’s nice to have you back off the meat wagon. Sorry it wasn’t mind-blowing.

  • 44 Hillary // May 8, 2009 at 11:57 am

    That looks like a beautiful dinner! I would love to be invited to a dinner party of yours :)

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