I’ve long been a fan of the day after Christmas, referred to as Boxing Day or St. Stephen’s Day depending upon the country in which it is observed. Of course, neither of those feast days are celebrated in the United States, where the 26th of December is usually get-back-to-work-day unless one is fortunate to be able to take vacation at that time. When I sent a message to a friend saying I was coming to Virginia for the holidays, he invited to me to his Festa di Santo Stefano (feast of St. Stephen) gathering that he was having in Washington, DC on Monday night. After I offered to help out with any last-minute kitchen prep, he gladly accepted my assistance.
For the main courses, my friend had picked out several recipes from his culinary “bible,” The New Basics by Julee Rosso and Shelia Lukins: the Italian Stuffed Flank Steak (sometimes referred to as braciole) and the Roast Pork Romana. I’ve written in the past about this book, and its place in my own cooking journey so it was no surprise when I discovered that he not only had it, too, but that he’d used it so much he’d had to break the binding apart and put it into a notebook, sticky note pages and all. Flipping through it again, I realize how advanced some of the entries are, especially for the early 1990s when I first bought my copy.
These two selections turned out to be perfect for a flexible, casual gathering and would be ideal for an open house or brunch. They could be cooked a bit in advance of the arrival of the first guests, or in our case, just as they’d walked in the door, and cut into slices so that everyone could help themselves at the buffet stations that he’d set up on his dining room table. Rolling the steak meant that it was cooked a bit more well-done on the outside and rare on the inside so that guests in favor of one or the other style had plenty of meat to select. The steak was meltingly tender with a creamy, sweet flavor from the peppers blending with the fragrant spinach-breadcrumb-Parmesan filling. The fatty proscuitto kept everything well-basted.
The Roast Pork Romana was dressed with a rosemary-garlic-butter and chopped proscuitto before it was drenched, really drenched, with two cups of vin santo and then put into the oven to cook. When I got to the step in the recipe where it said to pour the wine over the prepared meat, I called my friend away from his frantic pre-party cleaning and organizing to confirm with him that I should actually saturate the dish with the alcohol. He assured me to go ahead and do it.
It worked beautifully! The pork cooked to a tender moist finish in a bath of sweet wine and fat. The endives tossed around the outside of the meat melted into a soft, delicate layer. The reserved juices made a tasty sauce that I poured over the cut slices of pork when they were placed on a platter for serving. The only issue that I had was with the cooking time, which is listed at one hour and 15 minutes. The next time I fix this, I’ll check the temperature and doneness of the meat after an hour. Residual heat (the instructions say to tent the meat and let it sit after taking it out of the oven) will continue the roasting process, which leaves the pork in danger of being overcooked and dried out.
Once on the table, the contrasting colors of the two platters of meat enhanced the festive atmosphere. The endives were served in a separate bowl along with some braised fennel. I was relieved of kitchen duty to go join the other guests as my friend whipped up a penne with an arugula-mint pesto and a risotto dish to round out the meal. Glasses were raised in the good cheer of the holiday season and the food was quickly devoured. Then, we all went into the night to continue our festivities at a local watering hole.