You’ll need to visit a butcher to get the right cut, and then butterfly the roast into a flat rectangle — a fun project, if you’re up for it.
For many, a summer gathering means meat on the grill, in the form of burgers, chops, ribs or sausages. I’m all for those, but sometimes a more elegant type of party is in order, one with a tablecloth, china, real glasses and silverware — a dinner table moved outdoors.
If you’re heading in that direction, consider grilling a beef tenderloin roast with zesty, garlicky pesto swirled inside. Not a whole beef tenderloin, though. I’m talking about a cylindrical center-cut chunk.
You’ll need to visit a butcher for that, since it is a somewhat special request, a cut of meat not normally kept at the ready. Ask for a nice 3- to 4-pound roast from the middle of the tenderloin.
To achieve the spiral effect, the roast will need to be butterflied into a flat rectangular shape. Of course, you can ask the butcher to do it for you. But it’s really not very difficult to do, and a fun project if you’re up for it. This is not the standard butterfly technique, however. Instead of slicing part way through a fat steak, say, and laying it flat like an open book, here we gradually flatten a larger cut for more surface area.
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Here’s how: Position the meat on a cutting board so it is perpendicular to the board. With a sharp knife, make a 1-inch-deep incision along the length of the roast. Then use a sawing motion as you continue to cut, moving the knife down and to the left; with your fingers, begin to pry open the roast. Continue cutting, flattening the meat as you go. As if by magic, you will quickly produce a large rectangular piece. Congratulate yourself. Don’t worry if it looks a little ragged; it will be pounded with a mallet to an even thickness.
The pesto I use has green olives and sharp pecorino in addition to parsley, basil and garlic, adding body, texture and hearty flavor (a few anchovies would also be a nice addition). Smear the pesto over the meat, roll the whole affair like a rug back into a cylindrical shape and tie it securely with twine. You can do this several hours ahead of the meal or even the day before serving it.
As the roast cooks over hot coals, the mingled smoke and herbs release the most heavenly aroma. As with all roasts, you must let it rest before slicing. If you wish, let it cool completely.
I’ll admit to cooking mine on a stovetop grill and finishing it in the oven one recent rainy day, another perfectly good option.
Beef Tenderloin Stuffed With Herb Pesto
Makes 6 to 8 servings
3 pound center-cut beef tenderloin, trimmed of fat
Salt and pepper
2 cups Italian parsley leaves
4 cups basil leaves
4 garlic cloves, grated or finely minced
1 cup pitted green olives
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little more for drizzling
4 ounces grated pecorino romano (1 cup)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1. Position the meat on a cutting board so it is perpendicular to the board. With a sharp knife, make a 1-inch-deep incision along the length of the roast. Then use a sawing motion as you continue to cut, moving the knife down and to the left; with your fingers, begin to pry open the roast. Continue cutting, flattening the meat as you go to make a flat rectangular piece about 9 by 12 inches. (Don’t worry if it looks a bit ragged.) Lightly pound the meat with a mallet to make it evenly flat. Season meat on both sides with salt and pepper. Lay the meat on a baking sheet cut side up and refrigerate while you prepare the pesto.
2. Make the pesto: Put parsley, basil, garlic and olives in a food processor or blender. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Pulse to roughly chop, then add oil and process to a coarse purée. Add cheese, lemon zest and crushed red pepper and pulse briefly to combine.
3. Spread pesto evenly over the cut surface of the beef, leaving a 1-inch border at all edges. Roll up the meat like a jellyroll, with the seam on the bottom. Tie roll securely with butcher’s twine at 2-inch intervals along its length. Drizzle the surface of the roll with oil and rub with your hands to distribute. Leave meat at room temperature to season for at least 30 minutes. (Alternatively, wrap and refrigerate the roast for several hours or overnight. Return to room temperature before proceeding.)
4. Build a fire in a charcoal grill, leaving one side of the grill free of coals. Sear the roast on all sides directly over medium-hot coals. Move the roast off the coals and cook over indirect heat, turning occasionally, until an instant-read thermometer registers 125 degrees for medium-rare meat, about 30 minutes. (To prevent overcooking, begin checking after 20 minutes.) Let rest for at least 15 minutes before removing twine and carving into ½-inch slices. For easier slicing, let roast cool to room temperature.
Tip: Alternatively, sear the meat on a stovetop grill or in a large cast-iron pan and finish it in a 375-degree oven. The cooking time will be about the same.
And to Drink …
When served on their own, the two major components of this dish are easy to pair with wine. The tenderloin demands a red, the pesto a crisp white. Put them together and what do you do? I’d go with a sturdy red that will complement the juicy richness of the beef while echoing the herbal elements of the pesto. That suggests a traditional red from the northern Rhone Valley, which can be peppery, herbal and savory, and taste a little like olives. Ideally, it would be a Cornas, which would combine those flavors with a structure firm enough for the beef. Other options? An old-school cabernet-based Bordeaux from the Médoc, or a Napa cabernet not afraid of its herbal side, a good Chianti, a well-aged Bandol or maybe an oloroso sherry.
— ERIC ASIMOV