Each summer I face, as they say, a first world problem: deciding whether to spend my weekends at my favorite place in the world, or enjoying the many charms of a Chicago summer. The 8 minute bike ride to the beach, and the opening of an ice cream shop halfway between there and my home make a strong argument in favor of the latter. Moreover, there is a distinct je ne sais quoi about this city; lying on a picnic blanket with your friends in the shadow of the skyline, at the feet of a wittily gilded statue of Alexander Hamilton, knowing that anything you could possibly want is a short cab ride away, there is pleasure in not needing anything beyond the icy cooler of beer and cava pinning down the corner of your tarp. For us nature-deprived city children, the shade of a single pine tree and the smoke from a propane-fueled mini-Weber are more than enough to evoke the great outdoors.
My friends Missy and Sean have appeared in these pages before for their entertaining ingenuity. They live in a small space, but that has not proven to be an obstacle to hosting friends and family in style. Without a deck or balcony, they have mastered the art of grilling on wheels- a rolling cart and the park down the street.
On a recent Saturday, I called Missy to discuss plans for an upcoming prank on one of our friends (look out, L-Jo…), and she invited me over for an impromptu barbecue. Now, it has to be said that in Missy’s version of impromptu, we are not talking about frostbitten beef from the back of the freezer. I arrived to find three different kinds of hummus, assorted pastries from their favorite bakery, a carefully edited selection of beer, and Missy asking me to help spread freshly roasted garlic on ciabatta bread for steak sandwiches. Topped with parsley and provolone, these fantastic sandwiches are backyard barbecue via an Argentine steakhouse. Suffice it to say, we ate better than the frisbee tossing, hot dog grilling groups on the adjacent lawns.
Missy graciously shared her recipe, adapted from one of her culinary heroes, Bobby Flay. Flank steak is perfect on the grill; it cooks quickly, and the long marinating time allows you to prep in advance when you’re feeling less impromptu than we were.
Open Faced Steak Sandwiches
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 cup olive oil
2 large flank steaks, 16 oz total
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
6 cloves roasted garlic, pureed
12 slices ciabatta bread
6 slices aged provolone cheese, halved lengthwise, cut 1/4-inch thick
Prepare the parsley oil by combining parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper in a food processor. Set aside. Score the surface of the steaks with shallow cuts, about an inch apart, across the grain of the meat. Place steak in a large freezer bag and cover with parsley oil, reserving at least 1/4 cup for the sandwiches. Coat the steak well with the marinade, seal the bag and place in a bowl. Marinate, refrigerated, for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
When ready to grill, remove the steak from the marinade, coat generously with salt and pepper, and bring to room temperature. Brush the grill with olive oil and preheat with hot, direct heat. Grill the steak to medium rare, approximately 5 minutes on each side. Remove from heat, and set aside to rest for 10 minutes on a cutting board tented with aluminum foil. After resting, slice the steaks thinly against the grain.
Meanwhile, melt the butter, mix together with garlic puree and season with salt and pepper. Brush top side of the bread with the butter mixture and place on the grill, butter side down and grill until golden brown; turn over, top with the cheese and grill until the cheese melts.
Place the garlic bread on a platter, top with a few slices of beef, and drizzle with reserved parsley oil.