Since this project is a roll of the dice, I decided to forgo my own cookbook collection and go with whatever I found in the apartment where I’ve been housesitting. The only cookbook in the place is, remarkably, Julia Child’s masterpiece. (A boxed-set edition of Vols. I and II) And I could hardly believe it when I opened to page 327 and found nothing less than a variation of her classic Bouef Bourguignonne, Sauté de Bouef á la Provençale (Beef Sauté with Fresh Tomato Sauce, Olives and Herbs). Given that I’d walked in to find the owner’s bright red Le Creuset pot left out on the stove, it seemed like some sort of sign. The sauté, as Julia writes, “is good to know about if you have to entertain important guests in a hurry.” It uses pieces of filet, instead of the typical tougher stewing meats, to cut down cooking time immensely.
Still, I was skeptical that it could be put together in in 30 minutes described. I’ve never met a Julia Child recipe that didn’t cover several pages and require many devoted hours. But lo and behold, she was right (again). The quick cooking cuts of filet, browned and then added to an herbed tomato sauce just before serving, did only take about that long.
Of course, this being Julia, it calls for having on hand Coulis de Tomates á la Provençale (Fresh Tomato Purée with Garlic and Herbs, page 78). The sauce came together pretty quickly the night before, simmering tomatoes (using canned, since it’s winter) with a couple mashed cloves of garlic, some herbs and spices. A lot of people might be tempted to eliminate or alter the called-for pinches of fennel, saffron and ground coriander. But the combination, along with a bit of orange peel, carries the true flavors of Provence. A handful of salty, dry-cured Mediterranean black olives and some additional fresh herbs stirred in just before serving give the sauce a simultaneous olive-oil richness and freshness that pairs beautifully with the tender, quickly sautéed beef. Served with some simple boiled potatoes, it was a perfect meal with a very cold March day.
I feel kind of like I got off easy with my random choice, but this one’s a keeper. The only change: I’d recommend: Have some bread on hand because you’ll want to sop up every last mouthful.