The best bistecca alla fiorentina I've had was served to me one warm October evening at an outdoor café in Florence, where I ate alone, watching passersby strolling through the piazza. This Florentine specialty consists of a T-bone or porterhouse steak (traditionally from local Chianina cattle), seasoned with lots of salt and pepper and minimally cooked over an open flame, then thickly sliced, drizzled with olive oil and presented with plenty of lemon wedges for squeezing. When my bistecca arrived that night, it was a T-bone large enough for me and at least two others. Atop the perfect pink slices of beef rested a precariously large mountain of fresh arugula leaves, lightly slicked with olive oil and what I soon discovered were the outrageously flavorful juices from the cooked steak.
Ever since, I’ve found this combination of steak and salad to be uniquely satisfying, especially once the weather starts to turn warmer. The crisp greens and the bright hit of acid from the lemon cut through the richness of the steak, making it a great dish for balmier evenings. Below is my version of the classic, which forgoes a giant T-bone for (slightly) more economical strip steaks. —Merrill Stubbs
Bring the steaks to room temperature and season them on all sides with salt and pepper (don’t be stingy with the salt!).
Heat the oven to 375 degrees and set a heavy ovenproof skillet (I like to use cast iron) over high heat. When the pan is hot, add the steaks and brown well on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the pan to the oven and continue to cook until the meat reaches desired doneness (it should take about 10 minutes for the internal temperature to reach 135 degrees, which is medium rare). Transfer the steaks to a plate and set in a warm place to rest, for at least 5, but preferably 10, minutes. Do NOT put the pan in the sink just yet!
Set the hot pan over low heat (make sure not to touch the handle and burn yourself!) and add about ¼ cup water. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan to get up all of the browned bits and stir to combine with the water. Set aside.
When you are ready to eat, slice the steaks across the grain into 1/3-inch slices. Reserve any juices that escape the meat. Arrange the arugula on a serving platter. Quarter the lemon. Drizzle a generous amount of good olive oil over the greens, followed by a generous squeeze of lemon juice, a liberal sprinkling of Maldon salt and several grinds of pepper. Lay the slices of steak on top of the greens, and then drizzle their juices and the fond from the pan over everything. Follow with another spritz of lemon and more pepper. Then use a vegetable peeler to top everything with a shower of parmesan curls. Serve immediately with leftover lemon wedges, roasted potatoes and a good Italian table wine.