Fillet steak for Valentine’s Day

February 13, 2015 § 1 Comment

Yes I know it sounds hackneyed and a teeny bit boring but this is what I will be cooking up at home on February 14th. It won’t be just any old steak and chips but one of my all-time favourite special occasion recipes, Tournedos with Polenta and Salsa Verde, the signature dish of chef Alastair Little’s restaurant in Soho back in the nineties.


The recipe comes from the book “Keep It Simple” co-authored by chef Alastair and food-writer Richard Whittington and first published in 1993 at the height of the restaurant’s fame. It’s a slim volume arranged in four seasonal chapters with attractive photographs and drawings and clearly laid-out recipes. It’s a book I turn to time and time again and as I leaf through the pages I marvel that it doesn’t seem dated at all. Every single recipe is true to the book’s title, the flavour combinations are spot-on, and the mixture of classic and eclectic dishes means it’s book you keep coming back to.

The tournedos recipe is really three dishes in one – a polenta croûte enriched with parmesan and butter, crunchy golden-brown on the outside but with a soft inside perfect for soaking up the steak juices; a perfectly cooked fillet steak medallion with the pan juices turned into a sauce with the addition of stock and madeira; a lively and unexpected salsa verde that freshens-up the dish and makes all the flavours sing.

Most of the prep can, in fact needs, to be done in advance making it ideal for dîner à deux when you don’t want to be spending hours in the kitchen. I suppose that the raw garlic in the salsa verde should make this a no-no for a romantic meal but, what the heck, we’ve known each other long enough now not to mind a little mutual garlic breath.

Tournedos with polenta and salsa verde

Serves 4.


For the polenta croûtes

200g instant polenta
50g grated parmesan cheese
30g unsalted butter
salt and pepper
light olive oil for oiling the baking tray and croûtes

For the salsa verde

1 large garlic clove, peeled and chopped
large bunch flatleaf parsley, washed, dried and largest stalks discarded (about 40g prepared weight)
small bunch basil, just the leaves (about 20g prepared weight)
half a small bunch mint, washed, dried and stalks discarded (about 10g prepared weight)
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
a little coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
150ml extra virgin olive oil

For the tournedos and sauce

Four 140g tournedos
A little light olive oil
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper
150ml beef stock
5 tablespoons dry sherry or Madeira
15-20g cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Make the polenta croûtes at least 2 hours before you plan to cook the steaks. Cook the instant polenta in a medium saucepan following the packet instructions. Stir in the grated parmesan cheese and butter and season generously. Spread the polenta out onto a lightly oiled baking tray and spread out into a sheet about 1cm thick (a small crank-handled palette knife is ideal for this). Cool, then refrigerate for an hour or so. When set firm, cut out 4 rounds using a cutter a little larger than the tournedos. Brush lightly with oil and transfer to a second baking sheet lined with baking paper.

If you like, you can cut the remaining polenta into chunky fingers and brush these with oil and bake them along with the croûtes to make a stack of crispy polenta “oven chips” to serve alongside the tournedos.

And don’t waste the offcuts either. Cut into the neatest pieces you can manage and keep them in a sealed container in the fridge. Brush them with oil and bake them off and they will form the basis of a light lunch served eg with chunks of dolcelatte or goats cheese or chopped tomatoes and basil.

The salsa verde should also be made ahead of time. Put all the ingredients except the oil into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until chopped then with the motor running pour the oil through the spout and whizz until you have an emulsified sauce. You will need to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl with a spatula several times. Decant the salsa verde into a small bowl, cover with cling film and set aside in a cool place (not the fridge which is too cold) until ready to serve.

Remove the steaks from the fridge about an hour and a half before you plan to eat and allow to come up to room temperature.

About half an hour before you plan to eat, slip the baking sheet on which you laid out earlier the oiled polenta croûtes and “oven chips” into an oven preheated to 210 degrees C fan. Bake for about 25 minutes, turning halfway during the cooking process, until crisp and golden brown.

About 10 minutes before you plan to eat, heat a heavy-based frying pan (large enough to hold all the steaks and with an ovenproof handle) over a medium to high heat. Brush the steaks with light olive oil and, when the frying pan is hot cook the steaks for exactly 2 minutes each side, season, then transfer to the preheated oven (210 degrees C fan) for further 4 minutes. These timings work to cook a thick steak to medium rare.

Remove the steaks from the frying pan and place them on top of the croûtes on prewarmed plates and leave to rest for a minute or two while you complete the sauce. Make sure you protect your hand with a dry cloth from the super-heated pan handle and add the stock and Madeira to the frying pan in which you cooked the steaks. Boil fiercely for a minute or two until the liquid is reduced by about two thirds and is becoming thick and syrupy. Quickly whisk in chunks of cold butter and a little seasoning. Spoon over the steaks and serve straightaway.

Zermatt mountain restaurants: style meets substance

February 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Zermatt’s mountain restaurants are legendary and looking at the view from the balcony of Chez Vrony in the hamlet of Findeln you can see why. We were in Zermatt for the busy February half term holiday week so making some key lunchtime bookings well in advance was an important part of my holiday planning.

Our first lunch was at Chez Vrony is a Zermatt institution run by Vrony Julen, daughter of one of one of Zermatt’s long established families. The food is delicious, the service is both charming and almost fearsomely efficient. Our New Zealand nephew Simon’s jaw dropped visibly as we were shown to our stunning balcony table and seated on cosy benches strewn with sheepskins. He later admitted it was a far cry from his usual eating experience in the ski fields of New Zealand where lunch means a snatched pot noodle in a utilitarian shed.

Chez Vrony caters for both hearty and more ladylike appetites. I chose the Salad Vrony, an elegant supercharged version of a chicken Caesar salad:

The salad followed by a double espresso was more than enough to set me up for the afternoon’s skiing but nephew Simon and son George were both still hungry after rösti and risotto respectively and chose the apple fritters for pudding. Needless to say, these disappeared in a flash:

Later in the week we made the obligatory hop-over the Theodul Pass into the Italian village of Cervinia. When in Italy, it has to be polenta, in this case Polenta Valdostana smothered with butter and molten cheese. As my Milanese friend Matteo said recently “no self-respecting Italian would ever eat pasta in the mountains: it has to be polenta”. Polenta is incredibly filling and has amazing heat-retentive properties. Lunch kept us going for the rest of the afternoon without any need for coffee and cake.

In general, Cervinia’s mountain restaurants don’t quite live up to the standards set by its Swiss cousin Zermatt. We ate our polenta at a decent enough self-service place at the foot of the Colle inferiore delle Cime Bianche chairlift on the Valtournenche side of the resort. Though the polenta was good, the place itself was nothing to write home about.

Ski Club Rep Paul Ubysz, a walking encyclopaedia when it comes to local knowledge of Zermatt and Cervinia had recommended to us the Resto-Grill Les Clochards accessible from Piste 5 on the Plan Maison side of the resort. I see that there are rave reviews for a Swedish run place called L’Etoile though I wonder if reviewers are star-struck by the lovely team of blonde waitresses. Take your pick…

We are keen skiers so some days lunch was a picnic in the snow with supplementary coffee and cake later in the day. The spectacularly situated Gandegg Hut accessible from the high Theodul glacier ski runs is a perfect place to warm up and refuel. They serve generous portions of home-made apple cake:

The restaurant at Stafel accessible from the red run down to the village from the Schwarzsee area is a similarly good place to linger. They serve excellent warming soups and their home made tarts look extremely inviting:

Finally, I couldn’t leave German-speaking Switzerland without at least one plate of rösti. My favourite is the classic combination of rösti with ham and fried eggs. They serve up a storming version at the Restaurant Blatten on the lower slopes of the Schwarzsee ski area:

Blatten is another restaurant in the Chez Vrony mould: family run (by Leander and Simone Taugwalder); combines rustic charm with super-efficient service and attention to detail; delicious food for a range of appetites. The interior is cosy and wood-panelled and there is a sunny terrace outside:


Here are they key details to tap into your mobile phone before you go:

Contact details

Chez Vrony

Tel +41 27 967 25 52

Gandegg Hütte

Tel +41 79 607 8868 (hut keeper’s mobile)

Restaurant Stafel

Tel +41 27 967 30 62

Restaurant Blatten

Tel +41 27 967 20 96

If you’v eaten in Zermatt or Cervinia recently, I’d love to hear your experiences. Please send me a comment.

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