I guess when most of us think of Italian food, we think spaghetti and those old-school straw-covered flasks of Chianti. I am channelling that scene from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp where they slurp on opposite ends of the same pieces of spaghetti and then share the meatball.
So when I spent 10 days in Florence, Italy, a number of years ago, it was quite an eye-opener.
It seems that much of the impression of Italian cuisine that we have in North America is from southern Italian cooking. All that pasta and tomato sauce is a result of a wave of emigrants to the new world, from Sicily and Puglia and the neigbouring southern regions down by the toe of the Italian boot.
It turns out that north of Rome, it’s a whole other world.
Among other treats, Tuscany, the area in which Florence is situated, produces not only world-class wines like Chianti Reserves and the even more robust Brunellos, but they also raise delightfully rich, flavourful beef – so tender it can be cut with a spoon – cut from a famous local breed of cow, the Chianina, raised in the Chianina Valley.
This beef is among the best in the world and the favourite cut is what we would recognize as a very thick (at least an inch and a half) T-bone or porterhouse steak cooked over a hot wood fire.
So when I saw a new Tuscan red wine in the liquor store and knew that I had the summer arrival of my son to celebrate, I thought about doing a welcome dinner for him that would include Bistecca alla Fiorentina (beef steak, Florentine style), hash brown potatoes made from the last of my Yukon potatoes and served with this new wine, the 2005 Sasyr from the Rocca delle Macìe vineyard ($21.35, locally).
Sasyr is a blend of 60 per cent Sangiovese grape and 40 per cent syrah. In Tuscany, Sangiovese is the most important grape and the constituent element in the famous Chianti wines.
In the last quarter-century, Tuscan winemakers have been blending traditional Sangiovese wine with Italian-grown French grapes such as Cabernet Sauvigon, Merlot and, here, Syrah.
The result are wines for which Italian wine authority pride still prevents them from officially recognizing as “official” (Italian wines such as Chianti or Brunello or Barbera).
Instead, bureaucrats simply labeled them IGT (Indicazione Geographica Tipica), which roughly translates as wines that are typical examples of the region.
Wine lovers the world ’round have another term that we use: we call them “Super Tuscans”. The blend of the fruity brightness of the Sangiovese grape, when married to the stronger and more-bold French syah, gives this wine, and other Super Tuscans, their renowned depth and backbone.
In my mind, they are an ideal pairing with good steaks, and this one proved up to the challenge of my version of Bistecca alla Fiorentina.
I started with a fairly thick, aged T-bone steak from Stacey’s Butcher Block, in Porter Creek, my favourite place for beef here in town.
While letting it warm to room temperature, that afternoon, I ground together coarse sea salt, sage and anchovies to make an aromatic paste to spread on the steak. I ran my grill until I “buried” the thermometer needle, topping out at about 700F.
At the same time, I grated up the last of my Yukon potatoes with a little more sage, packed them into hamburger-sized patties and started to fry them in a pan with both olive oil and butter.
The steaks went on for just four-and-a-half minutes per side, cooked until they were medium-rare and then taken off the gill and covered with tinfoil to “rest” for another five minutes. The meat was then cut off the bone and into one-inch-thick strips with a little lemon juice squeezed on them and served up with the potatoes and the Sasyr.
I thought the wine was a terrific accompaniment for the welcome-to-the-Yukon dinner with my son. The colour was an intense ruby colour and I could both smell and taste the oak that some of the Sangiovese is aged in for six months.
There is a lovely and robust bouquet, and the taste is moderately tannic with suggestions of tastes of dark-fruit flavours – cherry and blackberry. And like a good red wine, the finish or taste left in my mouth after I swallowed was long-lasting and aromatic.
The combination of the Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the wine and the Yukon-potato hash browns, was the perfect blend of Italian tradition and Yukon boldness. Just like the way Italians mix traditional Italian grapes with French grapes to make a unique and delicious “Super Tuscan”.
Next time you put on a steak, give this great wine a try.