This is one of those dishes that isn’t really a dish at all – just a confluence of good ingredients that happened to be at hand, with the end result being something beautiful and delicious. You’ll never really be able to recreate this dish: My tomatoes were grown by a family friend, and my cheese came from a farm that anyone outside of Illinois isn’t going to have access to. But that is the beauty of cooking – if you use your favorite tomatoes and seek out your own special cheese, you’ll end up with a finished product that is different from mine, but just as good (or better), and more importantly, one that is personal to you and your dinner companions.
If you do happen to live in the Midwest, Black Sheep is one of the many delicious cheeses made by Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. It is an ash-washed-rind sheep’s milk cheese similar in style to a Robiola. If you don’t have access to Prairie Fruits cheeses, check out your local artisanal cheese maker or cheese shop for something similar in style.
5 tomatoes, cored and quartered
1 T extra virgin olive oil
10 sprigs fresh thyme
5 sprigs fresh savory
1 T vegetable oil
1 whole tenderloin, cut into 6-oz portions
3 T butter
1 round of Black Sheep or Robiola-style cheese
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Remove your beef from the refrigerator and allow to temper for a least a half hour before cooking. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, place the tomatoes on a wire rack over a sheet tray. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Scatter half of the thyme and savory sprigs over the top of the tomatoes. Roast in a hot wood oven, rotating once, until soft, about 6-10 minutes depending on your tomatoes and oven temperature. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, discard the herb sprigs and remove the skins from the tomatoes. You should be able to peel them right off with your fingers.
Preheat a large roasting pan or skillet in a very hot wood oven. Add the vegetable oil – it should smoke. Place the steaks in the pan, slide the pan back into the oven, and seal up the oven. Allow the steaks to roast for 4-5 minutes. Remove the oven door and turn the steaks. Scatter the remaining savory and thyme over the steaks and roast for 2-3 minutes more. Add the butter to the pan; when melted, baste the steaks with the hot fat for 1 minute. Cooking times will vary depending on your oven temp and the thickness of your steaks – listed here are the approximate times for this particular session, with the meat cooked to medium rare.
Remove the meat from the roasting pan. Cut your cheese into wedges and top each steak with a piece. Allow to rest for 5-7 minutes, then serve with the roasted tomatoes alongside.