We celebrated the slaughter of the cow, and the maturation of the the tomato ferment with the quintessential, the quinciñera, the dodecahedron of all summer dinners: Grilled steak over panzanella and fermented bloody Marys.
This will become one of my new American classics, when I finally get around to winning, and I shouldn’t just be putting it out there for the vultures of the internet to ignore, but I haven’t talked straight to you in so long. Instead, we (you and me) have conversations like this:
You: “Gangster, how do I make delicious pickles like you?”
Me: “This West Bank Situation is pretty outrageous, huh?”
You: “Gangster, can I get some tips on the best products at the grocery store?”
Me: “Don’t you think we’ve taken this social media shaming thing a bit too far?”
You: “Gangster, for the love of god how do I buy a good cut of meat?”
Me: “It’s weird how we profess to admire creativity, but fail to economically reward people who pursue creative work, huh?”
You: “Alright, I’m done, you pretentious, pseudo-intellectual prick. You don’t even know what you’re good for.”
But I’m going to make it up to you. I’m giving you my express permission to eat tomatoes in June! We’re only doing this tomatoes in June thing because of the damn weather, we deserve to eat tomatoes when it’s 95 degrees for two weeks straight. It wants to act like LA, we gonna eat like… well we’re going to eat like hot Portlanders in the heat. We’re gonna eat panzanella, with steak.
Yeah, you know, panzanella: making old bread sound healthy since the seventeenth century. The classic, according to the most reliable sources on the internet, is just stale bread soaked in water, tossed with onions in olive oil, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Sounds disgusting, no? That bread soaked in water thing, that’s what I don’t get. Instead, I break the (really very) stale bread into chunks, by hand if possible, toss them in a prodigious quantity of garlic-infused olive oil (heat the oil real quick with the chopped garlic, strain), season well, and grill until golden. Toss that with some tomatoes in big chunks, or just in half if they’re cherry-sized, some sliced Walla Walla onions, and tons of basil. Let that sit while you grill a huge steak. Take the steak from the grill and let it rest on the “salad.” After ten minutes you slice the steak on a hard bias and lay that beautiful bloody mess out on top of that meat- juice-soaked bread.
I avoid balsamic vinegar like the brown acid at Woodstock, but I make an exception here, and just splash a little over the top. I’m sure that’s not traditional, but neither is the steak, so fuck the Tuscans. What do they know about cooking?
What I’ve fantasized about for so long was having a rare steak with a bloody mary, so I finally did. Last year, on the advice of a dude named Favero Greenleaf, a poster on Sandor Katz’s blog, I took a bunch of overripe tomatoes, sliced them into quarters and salted and layered them in a crock. After two weeks or so of carefully skimming the scum from the top every day (this is vitally important), I pounded them through a conical strainer and bottled them up. Pour a little layer of olive oil in, put an airlock, or just an overturned ramekin, on top and let it sit in the basement for a year. If that sounds dirty and bad, it’s because you’re really too uptight.
This stuff is intense like heroin. I used half fermented tomato, half other tomato. By “other,” I mean whatever I had laying around in the fridge: a little juice from those delicious Mutti canned cherry tomatoes, a little tomato paste, and some chopped-up canned stewed tomatoes. Then it’s just a bloody mary: Worcestershire, lemon, horseradish, Tabasco, salt and pepper, vodka. Favero Greenleaf mentioned sipping it through a little piece of lovage stem, so I did that too.
I know we’re not even, and that’s why I’m going to help you through this heat wave, assuming it ends next week or so. Tonight you eat steak and bread, tomorrow, razor clams al ajillo!