To be honest, we got the idea from the TV show Everybody Loves Raymond. If you’ve never watched it, the family matriarch, Marie, always cooks Italian dishes, and I noticed that she kept bringing up the same recipes again and again — things like steak pizzaiola and braciole. If you love to cook (as I do) and you watch enough episodes (as I have), at a certain point you just have to look these recipes up and see what all the fuss is about.
Steak pizzaiola, it turns out, is worth all the fuss. It is a beginner-level recipe with Michelin Star-level results. It takes virtually no prep work and can be served in 30 minutes flat — from placing a pot on the stove through plating your new Italian dream dish. Here is how you make it. Start your stopwatch…now.
First: Stir together two cans of Rouses Italian-spiced petite cut tomatoes and one jar of Rouses arrabiata sauce in a pot. Add garlic-infused olive oil to the sauce and sprinkle red pepper flakes sufficient to satisfy a Southern palate. Now all you do is heat on medium-low and stir. (As you cook, remember: This is an Italian dish! You need to be bold, buoyant and boisterous when standing behind the stove! Just add that oil and seasoning until it feels right.) One thing I like to do is add a little sugar to the sauce to cut the acidity. Again, you can just eyeball it, but I generally use about a half-teaspoon. Let it cook for just under a half-hour, stirring occasionally. If you really want to break the ingredients down, you can even go for twice as long. No matter what, however, you are cooking it low and slow.
If you plan to use store-bought dry pasta (fettuccini works great with this dish), the next step is to drop enough for everyone into a pot of water and bring it to a boil.
While the sauce is simmering, and the pasta working, get started on the steaks. This step is just as easy as the previous two. Take your preferred cuts of steak, room temperature, and apply garlic-infused olive oil, salt and pepper to both sides of each. Add a little oil to a skillet large enough to hold your steaks and bring the temperature high enough that when you add the steaks, you know you’ll get a nice sizzle. Just before dropping the steaks, however, dust them with a bit of flour. Add the steaks to the skillet and brown both sides. You are aiming for a pink or red center, which means at a high heat, shoot for five to six minutes, on average, per side (depending on the thickness of your steaks).
When the steaks are ready, the sauce and pasta should both be about there, too. With the steaks still in the skillet, pour the red sauce on top of them and give the new friends a moment to make each other’s acquaintance. Now set the sauce-slathered steaks onto a cutting tray and slice them into small strips. Plate the pasta for each guest or family member and lay a nice portion of the steak pizzaiola atop it. Just for decadent kicks, add a little more sauce to each. (No one will complain, I promise you. It’s delicious!) Though steak pizzaiola isn’t traditionally served with it, I like to top it with a little parmesan cheese at the end. The dish will serve six people.
Advanced-Level Steak Pizzaiola
About that pasta: If we are going for easy — 30 minutes from start to plating — buy it dry from the pack and boil it. If, on the other hand, you are looking to turn this dish into something Instagram-worthy — something about which you can boast to your friends as to how hard you worked on it — you can make the pasta yourself. Yes, this is something you can do! You will need a pasta maker. Wait, don’t recoil in horror! Pasta makers are not extravagant luxuries out of your price range. Like any other appliance, you can find them anywhere in a range from $20 to to $2,000. Find the one that makes your checkbook happy. (And once you try one, you will never go back.) To make things easier, you will also want to get a pasta drying rack, which will run about $10.
Here is how you make pasta from scratch. Clear and clean your workspace as though you are about to make bread (because the process isn’t all that different). Pour onto your surface a heaping scoop of all-purpose flour — it’ll work out to about two cups — and make a sort of “nest” out of it. Depending on the number of guests you will be serving, crack three to five eggs and add them to the center of the nest. Carefully scramble them a bit inside the nest, and then begin incorporating the walls of flour nest into the center until you form something of a dough.
The key here is to get the pasta dough to the correct consistency. Not too firm, not too soft — otherwise the pasta machine will gobble it up and leave you with quite a mess to clean. No, what you are looking for is a slightly firm Play-Doh. Keep kneading the dough until it reaches a consistency in appearance, texture and firmness. If you find it is too dry, add a little olive oil. If you find it is too gooey, add more flour. Keep kneading, and when you hit that firm Play-Doh bull’s-eye, shape the dough into a ball and wrap it in cellophane. (The ball will be about four inches in diameter. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is.) Stick the wrapped dough in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes. (If you are preparing this pasta for steak pizzaiola, get going on the sauce prep while the dough is resting in the fridge.)
When it’s time to turn dough into pasta, remove your tasty ball of Play-Doh from the fridge, remove it from the cellophane, and then cut it into four equal pieces. Pat each of the pieces into a little shortcake. Something about a finger’s width thick. You don’t have to use a rolling pin or anything like that because the pasta maker is going to do that for you. Now comes the hardware. Pasta machines tend to have different settings, but on a 10 scale, you will want to start at a 10 and run one of your quarters of dough through the machine. It will come out as a flat sheet. Lower your setting to nine, and run the sheet through again, and again — note that you will have to dust it with flour on occasion — until you get to a setting of three. (Any finer and flatter than that and you’ll get angel hair pasta.) Once your dough is level-three flat and ready, run it through the slicer slot of the pasta maker. A fettuccini width is ideal for steak pizzaiola. If this is your first time using a pasta maker, prepare to be amazed. It really will emerge from the machine looking like fettuccini!
While you work your other three quarters of dough through the machine to make freshly formed fettuccini, drape the prepared pasta on your drying rack. When you’ve finished, add all of the pasta to boiling water. Warning: Unlike the hard stuff from the store, fresh pasta will be ready in about four minutes. Plate and serve. It’s that easy, and the results will wow.
When you’re standing over the stove — or earlier yet, when you are standing in the grocery store aisle daring yourself to go for it, to reach for that ingredient you’ve never before tried, that food that other people cook, but never you, just remember: You can do it. Go for it. I’m a self-taught cook. Growing up, I watched my mother and my grandparents cook. As I got a little older, I tried to make those things I watched them make. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn’t. The joy of cooking is learning along the way.
In high school, I worked with a volunteer group called Up with People, and while traveling with them, I spent the better part of a year in Italy. Every time I stayed with a new host parent, I tried to learn a new recipe. The first thing I learned how to make in Italy was gnocchi. I never lost my love for home-cooked Italian cuisine, and whenever I’ve traveled over the course of my life, I’ve taken cooking classes wherever possible. I do this because, once your trips are ended, only food — the flavors, the aromas, the tastes and textures — can bring you back to that time and place without the need to even leave your kitchen. Steak pizzaiola is a dish that can do that. It’s an Italian comfort food that might not take your family and friends to Italy, but it will take them back to supper at your kitchen table, and the mirth and merriment that was shared among all. That’s what a good meal always delivers. Don’t just take my word for it. I think Marie would say the same thing.