Pizzaiola, my mother called it, no need to use the term bistecca or fettine alla pizzaiola because experienced, Italian cooks all knew, that this traditional dish was only made with yearling or beef steak.
My son visited me last weekend and I cooked pizzaiola for him – it was one of his favourites as a child, either cooked by his grandmother or me.
Pizzaiola is a classic and very simple Neapolitan dish: young beef, ripe tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, oregano, garlic, seasoning and parsley. These are the simple flavours of Naples (Campania region of Italy), the home of pizza. There may be some simple and complimentary variations when i napoletani make this dish, for example the addition of basil or some finely chopped anchovies – and even a food purist like me could tolerate a little of these ingredients. If you want the real thing, pizzaiola is cooked on the stove, no mushrooms, bacon, cheese slices, capers, olives or any other embellishment.
I had not cooked this dish for a long time so I thought that I would consult some of my books about Regional Italian cuisine. Because it is a Neapolitan dish, it is not represented by all of the classic cooks, (not even Pellegrino Artusi (1820–1911), author of La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene – The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well.) But some of the old, celebrity lions and lionesses (e.g. Waverly Root, Ada Boni, Elizabeth David, Anna Gosetti della Salda) include the recipe in their collections and know how it is traditionally cooked. Do not look for a recipe on the web, you may be grossly misinformed.
In some of the recipes, the steak is sealed quickly in hot oil before it is added to the sauce. My mother never did this (and in fact some of the older recipes do not do this either); the steak is put into the sauce raw, this results in a much lighter tasting dish.
I like to add potatoes to pizzaiola and cook the potatoes with the meat at the same time; patate all pizzaiola is also a classic Neapolitan dish and often the two are combined.
Usually in Italian cuisine dry oregano is preferred (because it is stronger tasting), but for pizzaiola the fresh oregano is also well-liked – use a generous amount of fresh oregano and cut it finely.
You need lean, young beef, sliced very thinly. On this occasion I used a girello which I sliced myself, but in the past I have used thinly sliced topside. If I use rump or sirloin which require less cooking time, I do not add potatoes, reduce the amount of cooking time and only use half of the amounts of tomatoes. I am unsure of what cuts of meat to use in other countries – I have many readers in the USA or UK.
This dish is assembled in layers and then cooked.
1. young beef/yearling steaks, very thinly sliced, trimmed of all fat and beaten with a meat mallet to about 5mm thick, 6 (one per person)
2. tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, 800g (2 tins x 400g each)
3. potatoes, peeled, then cut into thick slices, estimate how many you would like for each guest
4. extra virgin olive oil ¾ cup, garlic 4-5 cloves cut finely, salt and pepper to taste, fresh parsley cut finely, ½ cup, oregano, fresh ½ cup (or dried, 2 teaspoons).
Begin with a dribble of oil, herbs and garlic etc (See 4 above).
Next, add some tomatoes (See 2 above).
The next layer is steak, (continue with 4 and 2)
Then a layer of slices of potatoes (see 3 above).
Continue with the layers and ensure that the ingredients are just covered with some tomato. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are cooked and the meat is tender.
As my son said at the end of the meal: “Just like nonna used to make it”.
Why are grandmothers more important?