Girello al limone is an unusual dish from Edda Servi Machlin’s fascinating cookbook, The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews: Traditional Recipes and Menus and a Memoire of a Vanished Way of Life.
This recipe was, for me, full of surprises. I was not quite sure what to expect from a braised beef recipe that didn’t call for any sort of soffritto, getting most of its taste instead from two whole lemons, both the juice—added at the beginning of its long braise—and the zest, added at the end. Lemon can do wonders for as a marinade for chicken, but as a sauce for a pot roast… ?
The result was a pleasant surprise. I half-expected all that lemon to make the dish puckeringly sour, but no. After a long mellowing braise, it lends sparkle without a trace of sharpness.
Another pleasant surprise was just how moist and flavorful the eye round turned out. I’ve had mixed experience with this tough, lean cut of beef. Cook it too little and it can turn out chewy, too much and it can turn out dry and tasteless. But here prodigious amounts of oil and broth combine to keep the meat moist during its low and slow braise. And the ample pan juices provide plenty of flavor.
All in all, I liked girello al limone so much it may become a part of our regular rotation. If you’re a fan of unusual flavors, it’s definitely well worth a try!
- 1 eye round roast, about 1-1.5 kilos/2-3 lbs
- 125 ml (1/2 cup) olive oil
- 500 ml (2 cups) beef broth, preferably homemade
- 2 lemons
- Salt and pepper
- Finely minced parsley (optional)
Grate the zest from both lemons and reserve. Cut the lemons in half and juice them. Reserve the juice as well.
Season the roast generously with salt and pepper all over.
Over a moderate flame, heat the olive oil in an oval casserole in which the roast will fit snugly. Add the roast and brown it well on all sides. (Be aware that the roast is apt to splatter on contact, so have a lid at the ready.)
Pour over the lemon juice and let it evaporate, turning the roast over as it does so it is covered all over in the pan juices.
Once the lemon juice has evaporated, pour in the beef stock. Cover and let the roast braise until it is fork tender, about 2-1/2 to 3 hours, either over a low flame on the stove or in a low (160C/325F) oven. (With either method, adjust the temperature as needed so that the braising liquid remains at a gentle simmer.)
At the end of the simmering time, there should be ample, but much reduced and intensely flavored, pan juices. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
When the roast is just about done braising, add the lemon zest and continue uncovered for 15 minutes.
Remove the roast from the braising pan and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before carving it into slices and setting the slices out on a serving platter.
Bring the juices back to a simmer, along with the optional minced parsley if using, and nap the slices with the juices, serving the rest in a sauceboat for those who want it.
Notes on Girello al limone
Girello al limone can be served cold as well as hot. Machlin says makes it a fine dish for Sabbath, a time when practicing Jews are prohibited from “lighting a fire” which for moderns includes cooking over a stove or other heat source. For the rest of us, Machlin recommends serving serve it hot in the winter and at room temperature in the summer.
Girello al limone is extraordinarily simple, as you will have noticed, so there’s little room for messing up. But one step you should be sure not to skip is the final rest before serving. (Even if Machlin herself doesn’t mention it in her recipe.) As the meat cools off, it will firm up slightly, allowing you to slice it neatly. Fresh out of the pot, the meat would tend to shred. If you serve it cold, you’ll find the meat can be sliced very thin indeed, thin enough for use as a sandwich meat. Leftovers are delicious sliced this way, with the slices then simmered for a few minutes in the pan juices.
Unlike just about every other post on this blog, you will notice that here I’ve specified the amount of oil that goes in. That’s because Machlin does, of course, but also because it’s more than I would have ever thought to use—and I am usually generous in my use of olive oil. Here that prodigious amount of oil is necessary for the dish’s success. It really does keep the eye round moist without resort to larding or other culinary trickery. The optional parsley was my personal touch, to lend color to an otherwise monochrome dish.
And although Machlin’s recipe specifically calls for girello, or eye round of beef, you could easily switch it out for the bottom round or rump, no doubt with equally if not even more delicious results. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’m particularly fond of chuck for braised beef dishes. It has tremendous flavor, but with all its connective tissue, don’t expect it to slice up as neatly as you see pictured here. (In either case, you’d call it brasato al limone.)
Edda Servi Machlin and Pitigliano
Edda Servi Machlin grew up in Pitigliano, a town in Tuscany that was known as “Little Jerusalem” because of its centuries-old Jewish community. The Second World War put a brutal end to that community, but Machlin, daughter of the town’s rabbi, was able to survive by hiding out in nearby hills with anti-fascist partisans. After the war, she emigrated to the United States. She passed away in 2019, at the age of 93.
When Machlin published The Classic Cuisines of the Italian Jews in 1981, few people knew of that distinct cooking tradition. Here in the US, Jewish food was (and still is) basically synonymous with the cooking of Eastern European Ashkenazi cookery. I find this cookery fascinating, as it is clearly Italian in its essence and yet different in subtle ways. Some of the dishes like carciofi alla giudia I knew from my years in Rome, a city with its own millennial Jewish culinary tradition, but others like this one were new to me. Here on the blog we’ve already featured two dishes from Machlin’s book: a risotto made with raisins (from Venice) and a fried chicken traditionally made for Hannukah.
And more than just a cookbook, as the sub-title suggests, it is a poignant memoire of a now-disappeared way of life—along with a chilling account of its descent into the hell of the 1930s. It is well worth a purchase if you can find it. It is sadly out of print, but used hard cover and paper back copies are available on amazon.com… at exorbitant prices.
Girello al limone
- 1 eye round roast about 1-1.5 kilos/2-3 lbs
- 125 ml 1/2 cup olive oil
- 500 ml 2 cups beef broth preferably homemade
- 2 lemons
- Salt and pepper
- Finely minced parsley optional
- Grate the zest from both lemons and reserve. Cut the lemons in half and juice them. Reserve the juice as well.
- Season the roast generously with salt and pepper all over.
- Over a moderate flame, heat the olive oil in an oval casserole in which the roast will fit snugly. Add the roast and brown it well on all sides. (Be aware that the roast is apt to splatter on contact, so have a lid at the ready.)
- Pour over the lemon juice and let it evaporate, turning the roast over as it does so it is covered all over in the pan juices.
- Once the lemon juice has evaporated, pour in the beef stock. Cover and let the roast braise until it is fork tender, about 2-1/2 to 3 hours, either over a low flame on the stove or in a low (160C/325F) oven. (With either method, adjust the temperature as needed so that the braising liquid remains at a gentle simmer.)
- At the end of the simmering time, there should be ample, but much reduced and intensely flavored, pan juices. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
- When the roast is just about done braising, add the lemon zest and continue uncovered for 15 minutes.
- Remove the roast from the braising pan and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before carving it into slices and setting the slices out on a serving platter.
- Bring the ample juices back to a simmer, along with the optional minced parsley if using, and nap the slices with the juices, serving the rest in a sauceboat for those who want it.
Like many, beef cooked with lemon is a new concept, but I’ve cooked Mexican meat dished in lime so why not. Great back story and what an interesting life she had. Wouldn’t it of been grand to have been able to share a glass of wine with her and here her stories…
So true, Ron. It would have been a fascinating conversation!
An unusual recipe but so simple in ingredients and the sauce looks surprisingly rich. I have never used that cut of beef. This seems a good way to begin.
Worth a try, Marcellina! The best method I’ve found so far for the eye round.
I have never had Beef in a lemon sauce. Wow! How interesting!
Very unusual but really very good, Jeff. Worth a try!
I love this recipe. A friend of mine from Padua used to make something similar, but sadly she passed away about 10 years ago and I never got her recipe. This is one I’m going to soon try. Thanks Frank.
Hope this one can bring back those taste memories for you, Linda!
Any idea of what internal temperature to pull from the oven. Afraid I’m addicted to my meat probe thermometer!!!
No idea, to be honest. I only use my meat thermometer for dry heat roasting. Have no fear, after that long braise, it’s completely cooked through. But if you wanted to experiment, I’d be curious to know what the internal temperature would be…
Intrigued so much with this combination. Definitely must try ! Thank you !
Thanks! I think you’d like it… 🙂
As a lover of most any recipe made with citrus, this is a dish (even though unusual) that I would try.
If you like citrus, you’ll definitely enjoy this one, Karen!
When I saw your post on the socials I read it out loud to JT and we were both surprised, so much lemon but I was happy to read how it mellows with the beef. Looking forward to giving it a try.
Hope you like it, Eva. As I said, it was a pleasant surprise for me.
What a great post and recipe, Frank! I have to say that the combination of beef and lemon took me by surprise, too. I don’t think I’ve ever prepared beef with a significant amount of lemon like this. I’m intrigued! And what an interesting world to delve into – Jewish cooking with Italian roots. Thanks for sharing!
And thanks for your comment, David. This one is definitely worth giving a go.
I love beef . . . . cooked blue or rare on the barbecue or the finest cut made into a cognac-blessed Stroganoff prepared table-side ! Braised . . . not so much ! But as Mad has stated ‘beef with lemon’ does engage one and I also am fascinated by how Jewish cooking has adapted to its movements around the diaspora . . . shall try . . .
Definitely worth a try, Eha.
I’m not a huge fan of beef, but this sounds and looks wonderful! I’m sure it would be amazing with my homegrown Meyer lemons, too! Pitigliano isn’t far from Civita di Bagnoregio, so I’m adding it to my Google “want to go” map! Thanks, Frank!
Meyer lemons would work wonderfully in this recipe, I bet. I’ve never been to Pitigliano myself but it’s definitely on my list, too…
Fascinating! I’m so glad you actually made this recipe, and that it turned out wonderfully. I, myself would have been hesitant.
I was hesitant, but I’m glad I took the risk—so you didn’t have to… 🙂
Machlin’s book sounds interesting. I’ve not come across it — I’ll have to look it up. And this recipe sounds wonderful. Very different from how I’ve ever cooked this cut of meat — usually I roast it, not braise it. But over the years I’ve concluded that good as a roast is from time to time, I most often prefer meat braised, so this really appeals to me. Very nice — thanks.
I’m very partial to braised meats, too. Especially in the wintertime!
Frank, I have not cooked and eye roast since the 1980s. My first experience was so bad, that I vowed never to go back. Well, this teaches me never to make rash statements like that. I really can’t wait to give this a try, and I’m kicking myself for giving away my copy of Machlin’s book. I had it for a long while and, when she died, a Jewish friend started looking for the book online and it was outrageously priced. I’m really glad I gave it to her, but maybe I will have to borrow it back from her now and then.
That was very kind of you, David. The prices they charge for this book are incredible. $60 for a paperback…?
I made this for Sunday supper, and it was fantastic. (We had it for lunches for several days, as well.) The tenderness of the meat was perfect , and the umami of the pan juices is unbelievable. Thanks for a great recipe! (I’m definitely borrowing back the book!)
Awesome! It really is a gem of a book. Not sure your friend will want to part with it… 😉
Beef with lemon sounds delicious! I’ll look out for the book, I’m very interested in Jewish cuisine and the way that the diaspora have influenced food around the world.
It is a very interesting subject, isn’t it? If you can find the book at a reasonable price, you’ll be very fortunate indeed. Good luck!
Ha ha – you’re right, I looked and the prices are sky high! Perhaps I’ll find a copy in second hand shop, some time in the future.