Thirty Minute Thursdays: Italian "These-Ain't-Philly" Steak Sandwiches

I have a secret to tell you, but before I do, you have to promise that you won’t point, laugh, and shun me for it. I can’t handle having to sport a branded letter on my arm, signifying to the world the truth. You see, I have this thing. With red meat. No, not making sure it’s grass fed. I mean, yes, there’s that, but that almost sounds normal compared with this other thing. This thing that’s totally bizarre-o and so not appropriate for a gourmand foodie such as myself (don’t laugh). Here goes…

If you sit me down at a table and place 2 plates in front of me, one showcasing a $35 perfectly cooked steak dinner and the other featuring a big, juicy, $5 homecooked burger…I will turn a cold shoulder to that steak before you can even say, “and how would you like your steak cooked, madam?” I actually don’t like steak, and trust me, I have had some really top notch cuts in my life. It makes only eating grass-fed beef much more affordable and manageable, since I can watch people eating steaks left and right and not get jealous, and I don’t burn a hole in my wallet trying to ethically satisfy some red meat craving all the time.

The fact that I don’t really like steak very much means something else: I basically never cook it. I barely know how. I’ve handled raw red meat I think twice in my life, and one of them was just last week. I’m a total amateur, but that’s ok. Because if I can conquer the red-meated beast, so can you. And I even went first, so you get to learn from all of my silly mistakes.

Mistake #1: Believing that you can at a whim stop by your local Whole Foods market and find the exact cut of beef that you need…in grass-fed form. Result: what was originally intended to be a Memorial Day cook out was postponed until Whole Foods’ next shipment came in…2 days later.

Mistake #2: Believing the recipe when it tells you that after 5 brief minutes per side, your full steak will not be an absolute bloody mess when you cut into it. Put that thing back on the grill, seriously! (As a side note, I know people who actually would’ve loved how rare – virtually uncooked – the meat was at this time interval, so if you’re one of those people, ignore this. If you like your meat more towards medium-rare, maybe 7 minutes per side. And if you like it well-done…just slice the darn thing and cook it that way. You’ll save yourself a ton of grief.)

Ok, so really, that’s not so bad, right? I also made a few really fantastic judgment calls when making these sandwiches. First, I decreased the amount of meat called for in general – ½ pound per person is just ridiculous, especially for a sandwich. I went with 1.5lb for 4 people and even then had leftovers – I think this sandwich is intended to be piled high with meat, and that’s just not my (or my family’s) style. Ok, it’s a little bit my family’s style, but they were following my lead and I made my sandwich first. Ha!

Overall, this is a good sandwich. I don’t know if it’s phenomenal enough to warrant Rachael Ray’s title, “Tony Soprano’s Steak Sandwich.” I mean, those are big shoes for a sandwich to fill. Still, it was tasty; I think it just needed one more element to really put it over the top. I also secretly think that turning it into burger form would make it even better, but shh! The Red Meat Snobs are going to bludgeon me for such blasphemy, so let’s keep that little recommendation between us.

You could buy jarred giardiniera for the relish, as the recipe states, but then why would you, when 100 pages later in the exact same cookbook she teaches you how to make your own? Just don’t make the whole thing – the recipe said it made 1 quart, and the sandwiches called for 1 quart – but one of those two yields was way off because I’ve basically been eating leftover giardiniera for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week straight and still have about a cup left. The recipe below makes the full batch, but I’m pretty sure you could halve it and still have enough to pile 4 sandwiches to the sky with it. I found the recipe to be a little bit too sweet, but I’ve left the sugar content alone because I don’t know how much you could reduce it without affecting the pickling ability of the solution. And it’s really only too sweet when you eat big spoonfuls on its own (really, I wasn’t kidding, I made way too much…); on the sandwich it adds a nice balance to the savory steak.

So maybe this isn’t Tony Soprano’s steak sandwich, but I liked it, my dad liked it (ok my dad had his without any veggies and with ketchup, but he’s a Philadelphian, can you blame him?), L liked it, my mom liked it. It may not be mob-approved, but it’s certainly us-approved, and as I said before…I don’t even like steak! I mean…what?


Italian “These-Ain’t-Philly” Steak Sandwiches
This sandwich is a new, almost sophisticated take on a sandwich that I knew and loved growing up, the philly steak sandwich. It comes “widdout” (fried onions), hold the ‘whiz (cheez-whiz, that is) – but still manages to pile up on flavor and satisfaction.

Yield: 4 generous servings
Prep Time: 24+ hours
Cook Time: 25-30 minutes

The Ingredients
¼ cup sugar
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
2 large carrots, thinly sliced
4 ounces jarred pimentos
½ red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 ½ pounds sirloin steak, 1-inch thick
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ tablespoon dried parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 ½ - 3 ½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 small baguettes, halved crosswise and lengthwise to make 4 sandwiches1
2-4 tablespoons minced garlic
dried oregano and basil, to taste
4 leaves romaine lettuce from the heart

The Method
Prepare the giardiniera at least 24 hours in advance. Dissolve the sugar into the vinegar along with the mustard seeds and peppercorns in a small saucepan set over low heat. Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients of the salad (cauliflower, carrots, pimentos, and bell pepper) in a very large bowl, preferably one with a lid. Pour the sugar marinade over the cauliflower, cover, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, shaking and mixing up every few hours.

The day of, prep the steaks by washing and thoroughly drying the cuts. Divide into 2-3 portions, roughly equal in size. Rub each steak with the balsamic vinegar and coat each side with the black pepper. Allow to marinate several hours in the refrigerate.

Meanwhile, drain the giardiniera (but reserve the juice) and transfer to a large food processor. Add the parsley, lemon, and 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Pulse the mixture until it resembles a fine relish. Set aside.

Heat a grill pan, lightly coated with an oil spray, over medium heat. When the pan begins to smoke, add the steaks and cook approximately 7 minutes per side (5 for very rare, longer for well-done). Baste the steaks with some of the reserve giardiniera juice and move the steaks around to pick up the color and flavors. Remove the steaks to a cutting board to rest for 10 minutes.

While the steaks rest, preheat your broiler and brush the insides of the baguettes with the remaining olive oil.  Sprinkle with garlic according to taste preferences, followed by the dried oregano and basil. Place under the broil until golden brown, then remove to a serving plate.

Slice the steaks as thinly as possible, against the grain, then transfer to a serving dish and top with any juices from the meat.

To eat, spread some giardiniera on one quarter of the baguette and top with steak and a romaine lettuce leaf, followed by the other baguette quarter to make a sandwich.

Source, adapted: Rachael Ray’s Classic 30 Minute Meals

1I made my own bread earlier that day, using Dinner with Julie’s recipe for quick baguettes. I made some tactical errors resulting in decidedly un-baguette-y baguettes (more like just plain ole rolls), which is why I’m not posting about them specifically. Still, having homemade rolls – even if they didn’t turn out as intended – was a really welcome addition to the meal, and if you have the opportunity, I highly recommend it.

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