Mama Rosa Musi is the quintessential Italian grandmother: old enough to be believable as a grandmother but still young and vibrant enough to make a multicourse meal for forty in a tiny kitchen. Her warmth, graciousness and generosity make you feel like a family member within the first half hour of meeting her.
I arrived at her house in the village of Reverberi in the hills outside Parma as a guest of the consorzio that makes and markets Parmigiano-Reggiano. That afternoon, with the aid of her daughters, Lucia and Maria, Mama Rosa showed me how to make the stuffed pasta squares called tortelli, filled with ricotta (from the local dairy), chard and Parmigiano-Reggiano. For the pièce de résistance, I learned to make rosa di Parma, a whole fillet butterflied and stuffed with prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano, rolled, tied, rubbed with fresh sage, rosemary and garlic, and roasted.
Whole fillet is not cheap, nor are the ingredients used to give it flavor here. It’s a royal dish, worthy of the most elegant of dinner parties or special celebrations. The fact that its name, Rosa, matched our hostess’s was an appropriate coincidence.
This menu makes for a very festive holiday dinner for a dozen guests. If you are serving fewer people, reduce the size of the roast accordingly. You can ask the butcher to double- butterfly the fillet or do it yourself, as described below.
- 1 4 to 5-pound whole beef fillet, trimmed
- 6-8 thin slices prosciutto
- 2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- If it’s still attached, cut away the side strip of meat from the fillet (save for a stir fry). Trim away most of the external fat and any of the underlying membrane, called the silver skin.
- To double-butterfly the fillet, place it on a cutting board with a short end toward you. Keeping your knife parallel to the board, make a cut along one long side of the roast, about two thirds of the way down from the top of the fillet, cutting to about 1 inch from the other side. (Do not cut all the way through.)
- Flip over the fillet and turn it around so the other short end is toward you. Repeat the cut on the uncut side, once again cutting along the long side of the roast, about two thirds of the way down from the top, stopping about 1 inch from the other side. Open both cuts so you have a large rectangle and turn the meat fat side down. Use the heel of your hand to press the fillet open into an even thickness. (Tenderloin is so tender that you won’t need to pound it.)
- Cover the meat with a layer of prosciutto slices (it’s okay if the slices overlap). Spread the Parmigiano-Reggiano over the prosciutto to make an even layer, covering all of it except for a 1-inch border. Starting from a long side, roll up the meat jelly roll-style. Tie the roast at 2-inch intervals with butcher’s twine. Let it rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Lightly brush the roast all over with the olive oil. Combine all the herb rub ingredients in a small bowl, then coat the roast all over with the rub. Place the roast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan and roast for 25 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 110°F to 115°F for rare, 120°F to 125°F for medium-rare or 130°F to 135°F for medium. Remove from the oven, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing.
- To serve, remove the twine and cut the roast into 1/ 2-inch-thick slices.
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