There are two primary ways of making pizzaiola, quick or slow, depending on the kind of meat you are using:
The Quick Method: If you are using tender, lean beef, then you want to opt for the quick version. In Italy, they sell thinnish (but not paper thin) slices of beef called fettine di manzo or just fettine. If you can’t find anything like that, you can use boneless steaks (as pictured). If they are any thicken than say, 2 cm (1/2 inch) then I would suggest that you cut them into half thicknesses. In either case, pound your slices with a meat pounder or the back of a heavy skillet. Pat each slice dry to ensure good browning.
Add enough olive oil to nicely coat the bottom of a heavy skillet. Turn the heat to high and when the oil is very hot, quickly brown a clove or two of garlic (taking care that it does not burn) then add the beef slices and sear them quickly on each side. They should be just lightly caramelized. Don’t crowd the slices which, as you probably know, would impede proper browning—you can do them in batches if need be. Remove the slices as they brown.
After the pizzaiola sauce has simmered for a minute or two, add back your beef slices and continue to simmer away for about 10 minutes, until the sauce has reduced nicely and the meat is fully cooked through. You want to keep your sauce simmering at a moderate pace—not too slowly or the sauce will not reduce, but not too quickly either, which would tend to toughen the meat. Although I usually love my beef ‘barking’ rare, this is one dish where the meat really has to be well done, both so that the beef has time to absorb the flavor of the sauce and because, for whatever reason, tomato sauce and rare beef do not really pair very well.
NOTES: The measurements are really pretty loose in this dish, but you may want to make ample sauce, which is wonderful with pasta, either as a first course to the meat or saved for another occasion. The sauce from the slow method is, of course, much more savory.
Variations abound, in particular for the quick method: for a lustier sauce, you may want to add olives, capers, anchovies and/or a bit of red pepper flakes. Some recipes, including Francesconi’s, recommend adding a bit of white wine as well which gives the sauce a little ‘zip’. Some recipes head in the opposite direction, so to speak, and omit the oregano and other flavorings in favor of a pure tomato sauce, although frankly that sounds a bit dull to me. Some modern recipes will substitute a soffritto of onion, carrot and celery for the garlic, which provides a more ‘refined’ but less characteristic flavor. Not all recipes call for the initial searing of the meat slices, but I find that it lends a nice depth of flavor.
The basic method is very versatile. Other sorts of meat or even fish can be made using the same method: older veal, for example, or chicken or turkey breast. As for fish, choose one with nice, firm texture that will stand up to the assertive sauce, say some swordfish, tuna or mackerel, cut into ‘steaks’. And you can even make hamburger patties this way!