In my dreams, I have always imagined running a bookshop cafe. After all, what could be better than combining a love of food and reading? There used to be a cafe like this near where I lived in my early 20s, and even walking past it made me happy. It was tiny with a very eclectic collection of books, mostly fiction and art books I think, and a charming cafe with great sandwiches and little cakes. It also had stern signs telling you to pay for the books before going to the cafe to read them - too many greasy fingers on expensive art books perhaps! Sadly the cafe disappeared more than 15 years ago, and now the closest we get is a Gloria Jeans outlet inside a Borders bookshop - not the concept in my imagination at all.
So you can understand that when I read about the new Cook The Books club starting, I had to join in. The first book chosen was "La Cucina" by Lily Prior. This is a very light romp of a book, full of unlikely plot twists, love, passion and most importantly, lingering descriptions of the food that Rosa, our hero makes, especially for her lover L'Inglese. I didn't love the book, but I must confess that I read it with one eye on what I would make for this challenge. Ultimately, I decided on braciolettine, the meal prepared at the emotional peak of the novel. Rosa goes to the house where her lover is staying (in my mind it is Cary Grant's grandmother's house in An Affair To Remember). She can't find him, so she goes into the kitchen and puts together a beautiful meal of beef thinly sliced, stuffed and baked. I don't want to spoil your fun, so to find out what happens next, you'll have to read the book!
I really loved this and would make it again, maybe as a starter for a dinner party. Definitely use the hot salami - it gives the stuffing a real lift. Scrumptious.
Instead of following a recipe, I decided to cook it as it is done in the book, so here is Rosa's recipe via Lily Prior and me...
1 fillet of beef, very chilled (put in freezer for it to start to freeze)
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup parmesan
2 tbl raisins, plumped up in a little hot water for 10 minutes, then drained
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 tomato, chopped
50g hot salami, sliced thinly
50g pecorino, cubed
Tomato passata, to serve
My fillet was quite long so I cut it in three. I then sliced it as thinly as I could horizontally. Very cold meat makes this easier, so either chill or slightly freeze our beef first. You want to finish up with thin slices of beef about 10cm x 15cm.
Gently fry onion in a little olive oil until it is translucent. Remove from the heat, stir in the bread crumbs, parmesan, raisins, pine nuts and tomato. Season to taste.
Take a slice of beef, lay a small slice of salami on top and then add a tablespoon of the onion mixture and a cube of pecorino. Roll up the beef, and secure it with two skewers. Keep adding more beef rolls to the same skewers until they are full (my skewers took about 6 rolls), then start more skewers if you need to.
Lay on an oven tray, brush with oil, and bake at 180C for 30 minutes. I served it with some tomato passata as a sauce.