Steak alla Pizzaiola is one of those simple, practical, Southern Italian dishes so rooted in the culture that its origins can never be known.
Every village, every restaurant, every family of Southern Italian descent has its own variation. My mother’s, handed down by her mother (and grandmother, etc.), from Sarno in the hills above Naples, includes a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg, with sliced potatoes cooked in the rich tomato sauce. It was one of my father’s favourite dinners, despite his thoroughly Virginian heritage.
It is a perfect one pot family meal.
ALL YOU NEED IS: serves 4 (or 2 for 2 nights, reheats perfectly)
1 pound (475gr) chuck or braising beef steak
1 can whole or chopped tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg
1 bay leaf
pinch of dried (or preferably fresh) thyme or oregano
¼-1/2 cup of (leftover) red or white wine (optional)
1 large (or 2 medium) baking potatoes, peeled and cut into sticks (like chips)
salt and pepper to taste
Sear beef in olive oil over low heat. Add red/white wine, if using, and cook briefly. Add sliced potatoes, tomatoes and other ingredients, bring to a simmer, cover and place in a preheated 350F/175c oven for about an hour. Beef should be fork tender and potatoes cooked through.
NOTE: in "Naples at Table," Arthur Schwartz gives the name "Bistecca all Pizzaiola" (pages 278/9) to an equally hearty but less rustic variation. In it, he browns a pair of tender steaks on high heat in a pan, then adds the other ingredients and allow them to cook for about 40 minutes or until the meat is tender. The meat is served with the sauce on top.