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Lost Italian: Mini Beef Wellingtons are perfect Christmas showstoppers

Mini Beef Wellingtons with Madeira Sauce are a great option as a main course for Christmas. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

FARGO — If you're still searching for a main course for your Christmas feast, look no further — this week's featured recipe is a guaranteed showstopper.

Beef Wellington is a classic combination of tenderloin and mushrooms (duxelles) wrapped in puff pastry to form a dish that is succulent, elegant and memorably delicious. It was the dish served at our wedding feast many moons ago, and it will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Tony and I celebrated our 25th anniversary last month, and to mark the milestone we plan to do something special on or around the 27th of each month, for the next year. Christmas is the perfect occasion to kick off this new tradition, and thus, beef Wellington will be headlining our holiday menu.

While a whole tenderloin is traditionally used, we served individual beef Wellingtons at our wedding reception made with filet mignon steaks. Mini Wellingtons are perfect for the holidays, as everything can be prepared at least a day or two in advance of serving and refrigerated — or even frozen — until just before dinnertime, leaving you time to relax and enjoy your holiday.

Beef tenderloin is the star of this dish, but the supporting ingredients play a key role in making the beef shine. Duxelles, a signature Wellington ingredient, is a French term for a savory paste made of finely chopped mushrooms, shallots, and herbs. Leftovers are wonderful in omelets and sandwiches or even just spread on toast or a cracker.

For our version, we use a combination of shiitake and crimini mushrooms (any variety works), and we also add garlic, fresh thyme and dry sherry to enhance the depth of flavor. Tony and I used a food processor for the mushrooms just to ensure that they were finely, and evenly, chopped.

Duck or chicken liver pate, often in the form of foie gras, is another traditional ingredient in beef Wellington, and if you have it on hand or can find it locally, use it. However, pate can often be too rich (and unfamiliar) for many palates, so for our version we use a slice of prosciutto (thinly sliced Italian ham) instead. Puff pastry is another crucial ingredient, and this delicate, flaky pastry envelopes each steak to provide a lovely, buttery contrast to the savory richness of the beef and mushrooms.

To assemble, each filet mignon is coated on top and bottom with duxelles, topped with prosciutto and then tightly wrapped in a square of puff pastry. The mini Wellingtons are baked in a 400-degree oven until lightly golden brown and perfectly medium-rare, the ideal temperature for beef Wellington. Always use a meat thermometer to ensure accuracy — we cook our Wellingtons to 130 degrees and let them rest at room temperature until they reach 135 to 140 degrees.

We're serving our mini Wellingtons with a classic Madeira sauce, easily made by reducing Madeira wine and beef stock to create a sauce that is rich and flavorful.

Mini Beef Wellingtons are luxurious and dazzling to behold, and, with their puff pastry wrapping, they will make the perfect Christmas gift for your holiday table. On behalf of the Nasello family, I wish you a peaceful, merry and delicious Christmas.

Mini Beef Wellingtons with Madeira Sauce

Makes: 6

Ingredients:

6 filet mignon steaks (6 ounces each)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 sheets puff pastry, thawed

1 ½ to 2 cups duxelles

6 slices prosciutto

1 egg

1 tablespoon milk

Kosher salt or salt flakes

Madeira sauce

Directions

Sprinkle salt and pepper over the top and bottom of each steak; set aside.

In a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the filets (may need to work in batches) and sear on the top and bottom, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to cool, then refrigerate until ready to assemble.

To assemble the Mini Beef Wellingtons

Lightly flour a work surface and, working in batches, gently roll out each sheet of puff pastry just until smooth. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into 7-inch squares. Keep the other sheets of puff pastry refrigerated until ready to use.

Place the pastry squares on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread 2 tablespoons of duxelles in the center of each square, then gently press the steak on top of the mushrooms, then cover the top with 2 more tablespoons of duxelles.

Place a piece of prosciutto on top of the mushrooms in a single layer and smooth it over the top and sides. Gently fold the edges of the puff pastry up and around the steak, tucking the pastry into folds as you go, keeping the pastry tight and smooth. Pinch to seal it and use a scissors to trim off any excess. Place each parcel of beef on the prepared baking sheet, seam side down, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

NOTE: If freezing, place baking sheet in the freezer until the Wellingtons are frozen solid, then wrap each parcel in plastic wrap and freeze in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

To cook the Wellingtons

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove Wellingtons from refrigerator. In a small bowl, beat the egg and milk until frothy and well combined. Brush each Mini Beef Wellington with egg wash until fully covered. Sprinkle the tops with a pinch of kosher salt or salt flakes.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pastry is lightly golden brown and the beef has reached an internal temperature of at least 130 to 135 degrees (for medium-rare). Use a meat thermometer to ensure accuracy.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the Wellingtons rest for 5 minutes. Transfer the Wellingtons to individual plates and spoon Madeira sauce around the base of each.

To cook straight from the freezer

Brush with egg wash and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes; lower heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until the meat reaches an internal temperature of at least 130 degrees.

Duxelles

1 pound fresh mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed (any variety or combination will work)

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup shallots, small-diced (about 3 to 4 shallots)

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

¼ cup dry sherry

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or ½ teaspoon dried)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Melt butter in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and garlic and saute, stirring often, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the dry sherry and continue cooking over medium-high heat until the liquid has reduced by half, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Cook over medium-low heat until all the liquid has evaporated, stirring often, at least 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool. May be made up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated until ready to use. Leftovers are excellent in omelets and sandwiches.

Classic Madeira Sauce

Makes: about 2 cups

Ingredients

1 quart low-sodium beef stock

2 cups Madeira wine

2 sprigs fresh thyme, whole

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon cold water

Directions

In a medium saucepan, cook Madeira wine over medium-high heat until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Add the stock and whole thyme sprigs and continue cooking over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs and discard.

Create a slurry by combining cornstarch and cold water until smooth. Add 1 tablespoon of slurry to the sauce and whisk to combine.

Cook the sauce over medium-high heat, stirring often, until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 3 to 5 minutes. To thicken the sauce, add more slurry 1 teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is achieved.

Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 24 hours, or freeze for up to 1 month. Reheat before serving, either on the stovetop or in the microwave.

Recipe Time Capsule

This week in...

• 2017: How to Make the Best Caesar Salad

• 2016: Last-Minute Holiday Appetizers: Chicken Coconut Curry Cheeseball & Hot Artichoke Dip

• 2015: Festive Hors d'Oeuvres: Pomegranate Salsa, Caprese Skewers and Hot Chipped Beef Dip

• 2014: Homemade Crescent Rolls

• 2013: Apple Sausage Breakfast Ring

• 2012: Norwegian Gravlax

"Home with the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

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