Something we gut-wrenchingly miss about Italy: the plentiful celebratory festivals that take place in small towns across the countryside. A typical Saturday in Piedmont would consist of Jonas and me revving up the Alfa to hit the hills in search of a gathering of townfolk united in their reverence for classic Fiat 500’s, white truffles, esoteric antiques, gelato, formaggio, vino, et cetera. One of our favorites was the Festival delle Sagre, translated that’s the Festival of Festivals. It takes place in the town of Asti, famous for great wines (Barbera d’Asti, Asti Spumante), horseracing (The Palio), and its close proximity to the heart of the best white truffles on earth, tartufo bianco d’Alba. The festival is a great place to sample rustic Piedmontese cuisine in a large-format, entirely informal setting. It is also a great place to drink plentiful amounts of wine poured directly from large glass damigiane (carboys, casks, huge glass vessels used to store wine) and have a sinfully good time.
One of the more memorable dishes on hand at the Festival delle Sagre is carne battuta, which means (now get your mind out of the gutter here) beaten meat. The longer version, carne battuta al coltello just means beaten with a knife. In other words, you cut up chunks of raw, very high quality beef or horsemeat, then beat it into submission (and tiny little pieces) with a super-heavy meat cleaver. It’s like the Italian version of the French dish Steak Tartare, only with different flavors. Typical Piedmontese additions would be lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, and perhaps some herbs. I have seen people add cream as well, though rarely.
In my case, I wanted to top my battuta with a quivering quail egg because I thought it would add a nice, carbonara-like texture to the finished plate. I started with extremely fresh Wagyu filet mignon cut from the center of the tenderloin and trimmed of any oxygenated pieces just before preparation. Then I roughly chopped it before going to town with my man-sized meat cleaver. I beat up half a pound of filet so much my arm is sore today, no kidding. Perhaps I am just a big wimp!
Once I had my perfectly beaten cubes, I used a fork to stir in lemon juice (one small lemon for half pound of meat), olive oil-to taste, ½ c of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, ½ tbsp chopped fresh oregano, and Maldon salt. I then plated the battuta using a cookie cutter as a form, topped it with a sous vide quail egg (you could just soft boil too), and sprinkled on some fresh pepper. I served the battuta with celery and carrot ribbons because they are nice to break up the mouth feel of the meat. It’s a great appetizer for a more adventurous dinner party, of course you’d want to be sure everyone was ok with raw meat before you wasted all that delectable filet.