fileno al mirtillo - reminscings of firenze

By definition, the romantic is anything that evokes something distant in time and place - certainly, food can be included in the list of most evocative substances on earth.  The aroma of a perfect boeuf bourguignon brings to mind the streets and alleys of Paris - maybe the small cafe where you enjoyed your first dinner in the City of Light.  A fine goulash will evoke Budapest, the romance of the Gypsies, and music of the soul.  Even something as simple as a hearty eggplant caponata - for me - brings me back to my childhood years, waking up on a cold winter morning.  There is no question about it - I'm sure everyone has had a food experience that takes them back.  Heck, just think about the end of Ratatouille! (And if you've never seen that movie, I highly recommend it...seriously.) 

On that note, I had a similar back-in-time moment the other day while shopping for dinner!  While trying to figure out exactly what we wanted - literally, whittling down from fish, meat, pasta (ok, we ended up having all three but with one as the main event!) we came across a beautiful tagliata.  Now, one may not think that Italy is known for the beef, but if you've ever been to Florence, you'll know that that is simply not true! Traveling through the countryside you see pastures upon pastures of the local Chianina cows grazing around.  Bistecca alla fiorentina (grilled steak) and tagliata alla fiorentina (sliced grilled steak) are both signature dishes of Florence - with not much difference besides the cut of meat and the fact that the latter is sliced.  Upon finding my lovely tagliata, I knew I had to make this! Proper preparation involves a little oil and garlic, finishing the steak with a bit of arugula, big curls of Parmesan, and a drizzle of balsamic.   Literally, you can't go wrong.  But THEN I came across a package of Wild Maine blueberries - the super teensy, super sweet and delicious kind! This is when the time traveling began...

There's a restaurant - Acqua Al 2 in Via della Vigna Vecchia - in Firenze, where everyone raved about the Fileno al Mirtillo - carved steak with blueberry sauce.   We went to the restaurant on a slightly damp, chilly night in March and were definitely in the mood for a cozy place and a delicious meal.  After wandering down the narrow cobblestone streets for a bit, we finally found our spot - and were welcomed into a warm, if not close-quartered atmosphere.  We of course had to order the fileno - and let me tell you, it was delicious! So, just having the tagliata in hand and seeing these amazing little blueberries took me back to this dinner, and reminded me of the few days I spent in Florence...fresh-roasted chestnuts on the street, the famous Leo Valdorini from Harry's bar, all the delicious food, Karl Lagerfeld sightings (true) and of course, Ferragamo.  That being said, I absolutely had to recreate the dish! Of course, my friends had on "crazy eyes" when I told them I was making a steak with blueberry sauce - but I have yet to fail them so they had faith.

Tagliata al Mirtillo
Serves 4
 ~2 pounds good tagliata, or filet mignon...or frankly any kind of meat
A hefty few pinches of sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Olive oil

Blueberry Sauce
2 T olive oil
1/3 cup diced shallot
1 pint fresh blueberries, cleaned - wild if possible
2 T saba, or a good, thick balsamic (make sure it's not too sweet!)
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

*A note on cooking the steaks - depending on what cut of meat you use, you may not need to finish the steak in the oven.  My tagliata was extremely thick, and simply pan-searing would've created a burnt crust.  Any cut that is around 1-in thick most likely won't need oven finishing.*

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Season all sides of the steak with generous amounts of salt and pepper and allow to come almost to room temperature.  Heat a cast-iron pan over high heat until extremely hot.  Place the steak(s) in a single layer into the pan and sear on one side until browned, about 3-5 minutes.  Flip and repeat on the other side.  If you have a thinner steak, you can remove it from heat and allow it to rest, 10-15 minutes.  Otherwise, finish the steak in the oven until it's reached your desired temperature.  I like rare/medium-rare - leaving the steak at a final temperature of about 125.  Anytime you're cooking by temperature, remember that the steak will gain between 5-10 degrees while resting, so undershoot your final product!

While the steak is resting, you can start on the blueberry sauce.  In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the olive oil until it shimmers.  Add in the shallot, allowing it to sweat, approximately 2-3 minutes.  Next, add in the blueberries, turning the heat to low.  Cook the blueberries, stirring often, until they release their liquid and become soft, but are still intact - about 7 minutes. Turn the heat to medium-high and stir in the saba and allow to come to a boil.  Reduce to a slightly syrupy consistency (this won't take long), and season to taste.  Keep warm until ready to use.  This sauce can be made ahead and reheated!

After the steak has rested, slice it on the bias in about 1/2 inch slices.  Again, if you are using individual portions of filet

This final product was delicious.  And if you think I time-traveled just looking at the steak and blueberries, imagine what happened when I tasted it! The steak was cooked perfectly, with a beautiful crust, and fork tender juiciness.  The sauce was a perfect complement to the steak - I think this would go wonderfully with duck breast (next time!).  I must say, I'm usually not apt to eat steak with any kind of sauce, as it generally hides the meat, but these two are a match made in heaven.   The sauce was just sweet enough from the blueberries, but was also rich and earthy from the saba used in the sauce.  Dare I say it was better than I remembered?  Surely, my friends will learn not to doubt my odd choices - some day! 

P.S. Acqua al 2 is also in San Diego and D.C.  I'd wait for Firenze though!


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