When it comes to “comfort food” we tend to refer back to the simple things we ate during our childhood, mac and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, ice cream, apple pie and mom’s chicken soup (to name a few). But having grown up in northern Vermont in the middle of acres and acres of farm land, nothing is more comforting to me than pure Vermont maple syrup. When I was kid, my parents refused to accept payment from our neighbor farmer for the hay he needed to take from our fields every fall to feed his cattle through the winter. I have fond memories of climbing up on to those giant prickly marshmallow-shaped hay bales and attempting to jump from one to the next. Instead, in exchange for the free-hay, farmer Tucker would give us a handsome two-gallon jug of pure grade A Vermont maple syrup, which he had tapped from his own maple trees and boiled down in his Sugar-house into the luscious syrup. In all of my almost 18-years growing up in Vermont, I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t at least one of those huge jugs on the floor of our kitchen pantry. It was a constant staple, like flour, sugar and salt. We never ran out. And what most non-Vermonters don’t realize is that maple syrup isn’t an ingredient meant only for drizzling over pancakes. It’s a secret-weapon ingredient for all kinds of other desserts, savory dishes, salad dressings and in this case, balsamic steak sauce! My brother’s girlfriend Bliss, who also grew up in Vermont but lives in Brooklyn now, admitted to me once, “All of my friends make fun of me for my cooking. They say that I put maple syrup in everything I make.” I looked at her, confused. “Why? That’s a good thing.”
Pepper-seared Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola, Spinach, Turnip Purée and Maple Balsamic Sauce
For Steak and Sauce:
- 4( 6-ounce) filet mignons, trimmed
- Freshly cracked black pepper, (about 2 tablespoons)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1/4 cup pure Vermont maple syrup
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup beef broth
- 2 tablespoon French brandy
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola, for topping
- 1 lb turnips, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
- kosher salt
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 bunch baby spinach leaves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Coat one side of each filet with cracked pepper.
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the turnips and cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Drain. Return the turnips to the pan and add the cream. Return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until cream coats the turnips, about 4 minutes. Purée turnip mixture in a food processor until smooth. Cover and keep warm.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cast-iron (or other oven-proof) skillet over medium-high heat until oil just begins to smoke. Add the filets, pepper side down and sear well on one side for about 3 minutes. Turn the filets over and sear for 2 more minutes before transferring the skillet to the oven for 5 more minutes.
Remove the steaks from the skillet and set aside, covered to keep warm while you make the sauce.
Using the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and sauté until soft and translucent, stirring frequently. Stir in the maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and apple-cider vinegar and cook until sauce is reduced by have. Continue to stir. This should take about 5 minutes
Stir in the beef stock. Remove the skillet from heat and add the brandy. Return the skillet to the heat. When the sauce begins to boil, whisk in the butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place a large dollop of the turnips on the center of four plates. Place a delicate handful of the baby spinach on top of each dollop. place the cooked steaks on top of the spinach. Using a large spoon, drizzle the sauce generously over the steaks. Top each steak with desired amount of crumbled Gorgonzola.