Serves two, two ways or four one way
This is a wonderful way to enjoy two grand ingredients twice, in short order and in completely different ways. Start with the simply grilled steak and the soft polenta and then, later in the week, serve the leftover beef, reheated with red wine and wild mushrooms, atop grilled slices of the set polenta. Either idea makes a meal for four, obviously. Just double up on the vine tomatoes.
|About 750g bavette steak in one large, thickish piece, or use rib-eye
|2 small vines of cherry or baby plum tomatoes, washed but kept on the vine
|180g instant (precotto) polenta
|Liquid as directed on the packet (typically 4 parts liquid to 1 part grain) made up of 30% full-cream milk and 70% water
|50g aged Gran Padano, pecorino or Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
|Salt and pepper and an optional dash of freshly ground nutmeg
Firstly, lightly oil a rectangular gratin dish. Mine is 23cm long at the top (18cm at the base) x 13cm wide x 5cm deep which is just about right. Set it aside, ready to receive half of the cooked polenta.
Liberally season your meat with salt and pepper, having brushed it with a little oil. Get a char-grill pan very hot, slap on the steak and give it 2 minutes. Flip over and cook for another two minutes. This results in rare-to-medium beef, which I think perfect for this cut.
Wrap the steak tightly in foil and let it rest (this is crucial) on a hot-tray, recently switched-off oven or warmed plate, for up to 10 minutes while you deal with the polenta. If you are using a rib-eye steak, which is more forgiving, cook it to your liking (I allow 3-4 minutes per side) and rest that for 10 minutes too.
Bring your liquid to the boil and season well. Carefully pour in the polenta in a steady stream, whisking like mad to discourage lumps. Cook for 3 minutes or according to the instructions on your packet, stirring gently, until the texture resembles a soft, floppy, golden cream.
Add the butter and cheese and mix well. Season with black pepper. The cheese should take care of the salt.
Now spoon half the mixture into your gratin dish and let it set into a beautifully symmetrical 3D rectangle. Refrigerate it as soon as it's cooled. Meanwhile, cover the pan to keep the rest of the polenta warm.
Brush a non-stick frying pan with a little oil and carefully add the tomatoes on the vine. Let them collapse gently but try to keep them attached to the vine.
Scoop the polenta into two individual serving dishes. Slice the steak thickly, choosing the best middle slices and leaving the ends for Round Two. Arrange on top of the polenta, drizzling the released juices over the top. Finish with a tomato vine per person.
Let both leftover meat and polenta cool completely before storing, tightly covered, in the fridge, along with the set polenta. They will keep for up to 4 days.
For Round Two, cut the leftover bavette into bite-sized pieces and put into an ovenproof dish that comes with a lid. Add a good handful of sautéed field and wild mushrooms (or some rehydrated dried porcini), a tablespoon of concentrated tomato purée and a splash of red wine. Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas 5 and let the beef mixture heat for 35 minutes, until bubbling merrily.
Just before the beef is ready, turn out the set polenta onto a chopping board. Cut it in half on the diagonal, then in half again for four triangles. Brush them with oil and fry gently in a non-stick pan. You may find that they stick to the bottom at first, so resist the temptation to poke at them or forcibly flip them over. The minute the undersides achieve optimum golden crunch they will release themselves so turn them over only then, and repeat on the other side. You could also do them under the grill, but in pan, lined with foil and brushed with oil, and not on the bars!
Serve the polenta slices topped with the beef, which will be beautifully tender in contrast to the crisp but still unctuous grain.
This is a dish that is happy with just about any substantial red. Given the distinct northern-Italian vibe of the polenta I'd choose a fine Piemontese like GJ Vajra's Nebbiolo Langhe. Having said that, a sweetly fruited red like McManis Family Petite Sirah mops up the richness of the cheese and the mushrooms most efficiently.