For many, a summer gathering means meat on the grill, in the form of burgers, chops, ribs or sausages. I’m all for those, but sometimes a more elegant type of party is in order, one with a tablecloth, china, real glasses and silverware — a dinner table moved outdoors.
If you’re heading in that direction, consider grilling a beef tenderloin roast with zesty, garlicky pesto swirled inside. Not a whole beef tenderloin, though. I’m talking about a cylindrical center-cut chunk.
You’ll need to visit a butcher for that, since it is a somewhat special request, a cut of meat not normally kept at the ready. Ask for a nice 3- to 4-pound roast from the middle of the tenderloin.
To achieve the spiral effect, the roast will need to be butterflied into a flat rectangular shape. Of course, you can ask the butcher to do it for you. But it’s really not very difficult to do, and a fun project if you’re up for it. This is not the standard butterfly technique, however. Instead of slicing part way through a fat steak, say, and laying it flat like an open book, here we gradually flatten a larger cut for more surface area.
Here’s how: Position the meat on a cutting board so it is perpendicular to the board. With a sharp knife, make a 1-inch-deep incision along the length of the roast. Then use a sawing motion as you continue to cut, moving the knife down and to the left; with your fingers, begin to pry open the roast. Continue cutting, flattening the meat as you go. As if by magic, you will quickly produce a large rectangular piece. Congratulate yourself. Don’t worry if it looks a little ragged; it will be pounded with a mallet to an even thickness.
The pesto I use has green olives and sharp pecorino in addition to parsley, basil and garlic, adding body, texture and hearty flavor (a few anchovies would also be a nice addition). Smear the pesto over the meat, roll the whole affair like a rug back into a cylindrical shape and tie it securely with twine. You can do this several hours ahead of the meal or even the day before serving it.
As the roast cooks over hot coals, the mingled smoke and herbs release the most heavenly aroma. As with all roasts, you must let it rest before slicing. If you wish, let it cool completely.
I’ll admit to cooking mine on a stovetop grill and finishing it in the oven one recent rainy day, another perfectly good option.