Young and naive, I took on the task of dragging seven students with me to Italy after my first year of teaching in a public school. (I previously taught one year at a private-alternative school for bad kids, who were in fact, well behaved, probably more so than my public school kids...but that's another story). I love teaching and the Italy trip was a whirlwind of fun! On the advice of another teacher, I contracted with one of those tour companies, which in reality offer quite good prices for flight, accommodations and all breakfasts and dinners.....but these companies often try to feed you cheaply and through bulk serving practices. Admittedly, what eighth grader is going to notice....after all, in Florence, the boys were dying to go to McDonald's when we came upon one near the Trevi Fountain. The few good meals that we had were those we purchased on our own during the mid-afternoon....and sometimes those stops were primarily made because we needed to use the hole in the floor or risk paying another quarter for the restroom. It was one of these lovely meals where I experienced the most delicious mushroom ravioli dish I have ever had with a creamy parmesan sauce that inspired the recipe below. I promise someday soon to take on the task of recreating those mushroom raviolis with a similar sauce; though it will include Gorgonzola cheese as well.
You won't see any fabulous pictures of Italy, as my trip in 1998 was recorded with only a few pathetic roles of film when my photography skills were worse than they are now. Our first day, we arrived in Verona where our tour was hooked up with a wild and crazy guide and an older group of New England students who were allowed to run free during our tour. Within an hour, our bus broke down, and I discovered the joy of the mechanics as they trained their eyes on me rather than our smoke-billowing bus when I asked to use the bathroom. I emerged smiling; I didn't care about peeing in a hole in the floor. To Juliet's balcony we went; where boys of all ages groped her statue and scribbled love notes. I can't even remember what we ate that night, but I remember playing pool with a few Italian soccer players (no complaints).
Venice was as beautiful as I had expected, but somehow on this trip, I had not expected so many church stops. Thankful that I had asked my group to pack some conservative clothes, I winced as one of our tour guides poked another vacationer in disgust regarding her lack of decorum for that which was holy. The sheer size and finances that went into these beautiful churches was amazing. It was in these candle-lit churches, listening to the purest echoing and chanting of the monks, that I experienced the only peace I would feel on this trip.
On this particular night, we had simple fair.........while many people don't consider a sauce to be simple, the sauce that accompanies this meal was inspired by my Italy trip and was quite simple taking no more time to create than the steak; which I like medium rare. My purchases in Italy were all related to food; olive oil, wine, limoncello....Italy is responsible for being the second largest producer of olives and olive oil. Their Mediterranean climate and fertile soil, especially in the south, are perfect for growing the peaceful looking olive trees which cover many hillsides.
Steak with Parmesan Portobello Sauce
1 TBSP. balsamic vinegar
2 TBSP. olive oil
Large pinch salt/pepper to taste
1 clove of garlic-pressed
16 ounce or so steak of your choice (Top Round London Broil is a good choice)
Drizzle the balsamic vinegar and olive oil on the steak, sprinkle the salt, pepper and freshly pressed garlic on both sides of the steak. Heat a cast iron pan (or grill if you prefer) to medium-high heat and sear on each side for about three minutes. Turn heat down to medium to finish the steak on both sides to your liking; checking the steak and flipping every five minutes. You may want to add a small pat of butter to the top of your steak while it is cooking to keep it moist. Steaks should rest at least five minutes to keep the moisture inside prior to cutting.
Cook 12-16 ounces of pasta according to directions; I used a mini-penne for this recipe.
Parmesan Portobello Sauce
Large handful of portobello mushrooms-sliced
2 TBSP. butter
1 TBSP cognac
1 cup low-fat milk
2 ounces cream cheese
1/2-3/4 cup shredded parmesan
1 clove garlic
Melt the butter in the pan; adding the cognac, pressed garlic, cream cheese and milk until the cream cheese is melted; using a silicone coated whisk to encourage the cream cheese to melt. Add the parmesan cheese (adjusting your amount to the thickness you desire in your sauce); again using your whisk often to keep the sauce from clumping. I added the sliced mushrooms about five minutes prior to the steak being done to keep them from being too limp.
Preparing your plate:
Place the desired amount of pasta in a bowl, ladle with parmesan portobello sauce and slice your steak, placing on top of the pasta.