Charred Beef Tenderloin With Cacio e Pepe Toasted Barley and Watercress Pesto


[Photograph: Kerry Saretsky]

Beef tenderloin may look like the star in this recipe, but it's the barley that absolutely stole my heart. It's flavored in the manner of the traditional Roman pasta dish cacio e pepe—cheese and black pepper. I serve it with roasted kale. I eat it on its own. I serve it with grilled fish. It's addictive.

To make it, I start with leftover cooked barley. I put it into a skillet with a little bit of olive oil, instead of butter, and a lot of black pepper (the pepe) to toast. The barley tans slightly in the heat of the pan, and the pepper releases its oils, getting hotter and more peppery. Then, a light sprinkling of Pecorino Romano cheese (the cacio) finishes it off with a salty, nutty shower that melts into the grains. You don't need a ton, just a hint. Between the heat of the black pepper and the saltiness of the Pecorino, you have perfectly seasoned, hearty, chewy, nutty barley. It's fantastic.

This time, I'm topping it with simply grilled, sliced steak. I start with a good filet mignon, rub it with just enough olive oil to coat it, and crust it with salt and pepper. Then I cook it on the grill (or a good cast iron skillet) to char. On top of that goes a simple pesto made from bitter greens (watercress, baby spinach, and arugula) and olive oil to accentuate the pepperiness in the barley. The whole thing, altogether, makes me very happy.