Beef “Rags” with Arugula and Shaved Parmesan (Straccetti di Manzo con Rucola e Scaglie di Parmigiano)
A few years ago, my Roman friend Elvira took me to one of her favorite lunch spots—Fiaschetteria Marini dal 1913, not far from Villa Borghese. Historic “fiaschetterie” have evolved into restaurants, but they began life in the 19th and early 20th centuries as rustic taverns where you could buy Frascati or other locally produced wine on tap and sit at a table and enjoy it, along with a lunch or snack you packed yourself. Eventually, in a bid to increase their profits, fiaschietterie began offering food in addition to wine. Such places were once plentiful in Rome, but most have long been converted into more upscale eateries, with updated décor and modern menus.
Fortunately, a handful have retained their authentic tenor, serving straightforward Roman food at affordable prices in a casual and convivial atmosphere. Fiaschetteria Marini dal 1913 is one of them; since my first visit, it’s become one of my favorite spots, too. On any given day you’ll find classic dishes like rigatoni all’amatriciana or carbonara, melanzane alla parmigiana (eggplant parmesan), polpette al sugo (meatballs in sauce), and trippa alla romana (tripe). Daily soups, seasonal sides, and a small selection of simple desserts round out the menu.
It was at Fiaschetteria Marini where I first tasted straccetti di manzo, sautéed “rags” of thinly sliced beef quick-sautéed in olive oil and served with arugula, cherry tomatoes, and shaved Parmigiano cheese. There were so few components to the dish, and yet it had big flavor and an appealing mix of textures; savory curls of beef and cheese, acidity from the tomatoes, and a peppery bite from arugula. It’s not a cold dish; the heat from the beef settles over the other ingredients to slightly warm and soften them, bringing out their best.
I didn’t want to wait until my next trip to Rome to enjoy straccetti again, so I started making it at home, using a recipe from British food writer Rachel Roddy’s book My Kitchen in Rome: Recipes and Notes on Italian Cooking as a guide. It’s super simple, provided you pay attention to certain details. Use the best quality beef you can get, and make sure it’s a lean cut, such as rump roast or eye of round (also known as London broil). For best results, it should be sliced paper-thin—think cheesesteak. I have a butcher slice it for me. The meat, once sliced, is then torn into strips and given a short bath in olive oil before cooking. Then it’s sautéed quickly over moderately high heat and plated with the other ingredients while still hot, so the arugula wilts and the shavings of parmesan cheese soften. The tomatoes—featured in Fiaschetteria Marini’s version but not in Rachel’s recipe—are optional; sometimes I use them, sometimes I go with the more pared-down version of just beef, arugula, and cheese. Either way, all you really need to complete this dish is a crusty hunk of bread and a glass of Frascati.
1. With your fingers, tear the slices of beef lengthwise into strips and place them in a bowl. Drizzle 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil on top and season with salt and pepper. Toss everything together and let it sit for 5 minutes.
2. Wash and dry the arugula. Spread the arugula out on a serving platter or on four individual plates, saving a handful of leaves to scatter on top.
3. Film a large skillet with olive oil—about 2 tablespoons and set over medium-high heat. Tip in all the beef, along with any accumulated juices from the bowl. Cook briefly, using tongs or a spatula to turn the beef, until it has lost most of its color but retains some spots of pink. This will take less than a minute. Scoop up the meat with tongs and arrange it on top of the arugula.
4. Drizzle any pan juices on top and scatter on the cherry tomatoes, if using, and the reserved arugula. Use a vegetable peeler to pare shavings of Parmigiano cheese over everything. Drizzle a little more olive oil on top and serve.
Yield: 4 servings