italian (non)beef

italian beef is maybe one of the most abused sandwiches in the united states.  it seems that almost every run-of-the-mill subpar italian lays claim to their own special italian beef recipe.  and in all honesty, there are very few that make the grade.  beef is one of the only meats that can be served rare, and that door swings two ways.  yeah, it is delicious when cooked with just the perfect amount of pink, but it is also god-awful dry when cooked for far longer than any meat should be.

this ain’t your average italian beef.  my italian (non)beef is all about the ingredients, first and foremost, and goes straight from the frying pan onto the bread.  no heat lamps necessary.

you’ll need:

  • thinly sliced pork (doesn’t need to be lean, don’t worry)
  • (ground) thyme
  • oregano
  • basil (dried or fresh)
  • salt
  • flour
  • black pepper
  • one red and one yellow bell pepper
  • half an onion
  • a loaf of french or italian bread
  • mayonnaise
  • fresh spinach
  • red wine
  • cheese (fresh mozzarella, gouda, or a smoked cheese)
  1. slice the loaf of bread in half, and then split it open.  use your noggin, a large percentage of emergency room visits start with someone trying to cut bread towards themselves while holding it in their hand.  a breadknife can mangle you pretty bad, so pay attention.  throw it in the toaster over, but don’t toast it quite yet.
  2. add your pork to a sealable container or a plastic bag, add enough salt and pepper to satisfy you, enough flour to coat, and then throw in equal amounts of (ground) thyme, dried oregano, and dried basil.  if you have fresh basil, by all means refrain from including it here and add it raw when you are assembling the sandwich.  when your pork is evenly coated, add some olive oil to a frying pan, and get it to medium-high heat.
  3. get the spinach washed, and remove the stems if they are still attached.  baby spinach is great for this recipe, because it is often prewashed and requires very little maintenance.  set it aside in a colander and make sure that most of the water on the leaves has drained off before putting it on the sandwich.  while you are at it, you might as well slice your cheese, too.  make sure you slice it thin, we want it melty.
  4. seed the red and yellow pepper, and then slice them into thin ribbons.  cut your onion into slices of the same thickness.  add them all together to the hot olive oil.  don’t overcook these, they are the texture of your sandwich.  if you onions are limp and your peppers are colorless, you might as well as just throw them away and saved yourself some time.  take them out of the frying pan and set them aside.
  5. start toasting the bread.  be careful not to over-toast it.  the beauty of french and italian bread is that it is soft in the middle and crusty on the outside, giving it an excellent and diverse texture.  if that crust become so crunchy and hard that it hurts to bite into the sandwich, you converted that crust from a natural advantage into a big time problem.
  6. add a little more oil to the pan and add the pork once hot.  too much pork will cause the contents of the frying pan to cook unevenly, so make it a few batches at a time if you have a small pan.  cook the pork until it is browned.  don’t overdo it or it will be dry, if the pork is thin enough it should cook pretty quickly.  when you think it is about one minute from being done, add one or two splashes of red wine.  place the lid on the pan for a minute or so, or until the wine starts to simmer.
  7. when the pork is almost done, remove the bread from the toaster (or regular) oven, and spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on one half.  on the other half, add the cheese while the bread is still piping hot.
  8. add a dozen or so leaves of spinach on top of the mayo.  then add the pork straight from the pan.  the residual heat of the pork will cause the spinach to wilt just the right amount.  stack your red-yellow pepper mix onto the pork, and then pour some of the wine sauce left in the frying pan over the top.  give it a little more spinach, and seal the deal with the other half of the bread (which is now copiously cheesed).
  9. skewer it together with a toothpick, because this beast of a sandwich is going to be brimming forth with excellence.  serve alongside the remainder of the red and yellow pepper sautee.

makes a tremendous sandwich for 2

goes excellent with:

red wine.  you were cooking with it, you better drink the rest.  no, seriously, it goes great with this sandwich.  i’m not a big fan of the dry wines, but even a sweet can be an awesomely refreshing beverage when pair with a nice savory dish.

coffee.  this sandwich is italian-style, but that means that it fits in well in a bisto-esque meal.  salad, soup, and the italian (non)beef call for a nice tall caffeinated beverage. what could be better than an espresso or a tall redeye.

potato bacon and leek chowder.  speaking of soup, this creamy addition can really kick this sandwich up a few notches.  and don’t be ashamed when you get down to the last few bites.  go ahead, dip the sandwich in there.  no one is watching.

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