- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Our son and his family always spend the holidays with his wife’s family. Although we understand the logic (in a fair divide, we have Thanksgiving), we worry about spend-

ing Christmas Day alone.

My husband has rectified this by hinting to close friends that we might have to dine alone on the 25th. Without fail, this elicits an invitation.

Because our hosts have been so generous in including us in their family celebrations, I volunteer to help with the cooking.

Through the years, I have been responsible for appetizers, side dishes, salads and desserts, but this year, I have volunteered to make the main course: a glorious herb-rubbed roast beef tenderloin served with a simple, delicious pan sauce.

The recipe was devised from one I taught in a fall cooking class when I rubbed crushed fennel seeds, dried rosemary, coarse salt and pepper over a boneless veal shoulder, then roasted the meat on a bed of sauteed fennel, carrots and onions. As the holidays approached, I decided to substitute beef tenderloin for the veal and liked the results even better.

Several hours in advance, I will assemble the herb mixture and rub it over the meat and also get the trio of vegetables chopped and ready to saute. At roasting time, I’ll brown the meat and quickly saute the vegetables, then pop the two in the oven until a meat thermometer registers the beef at medium-rare, usually less than an hour.

For the sauce, the roast will be removed and red wine, broth and chopped tomatoes will be added to the roasting pan, simmered a few minutes, then thickened with a paste of butter and flour.

Sliced, then arranged on a platter and napped with the sauce, the tenderloin makes a splendid sight. All manner of side dishes pair well with the beef: golden roasted or creamy mashed potatoes or a wild-rice pilaf are good possibilities, as are tender green beans, braised leeks and sauteed chard or spinach. I’m certain your family and friends will appreciate this special holiday dish.

Roast beef tenderloin with fennel and rosemary

1 3-pound boneless beef tenderloin, trimmed (see note)

2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed (see note)

11/4 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1½ cups finely chopped fennel bulb (l large or 2 medium bulbs)

3/4 cup chopped onion

3/4 cup finely diced carrots

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons dry red wine

1½ cups reduced-sodium beef broth

1 14-ounce can Italian tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped

1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon softened butter blended with 1 tablespoon flour

3 fresh rosemary sprigs for garnish, optional

Arrange a rack at center position; preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pat beef dry with paper towels. Combine fennel seed, crushed rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt and 11/4 teaspoons black pepper in a small bowl. Rub on all sides of the meat. Heat 3 tablespoons oil until hot in a heavy, flame-proof medium roasting pan over medium-high heat. Brown beef on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Remove meat and set aside.

Carefully pour out any oil in the pan and wipe out any residue with paper towels. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan; heat until hot over medium-high heat. Add fennel, onion and carrots; saute, stirring, 3 minutes. Place roast on top of vegetables.

Roast meat on center rack of preheated 375-degree oven, uncovered, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of roast reads 125 degrees, about 40 minutes for medium-rare. Time will vary depending on thickness of roast; watch carefully. Remove roast to a platter and cover loosely with foil. Let stand 10 minutes.

Place roasting pan with vegetables over medium-high heat. Add wine and broth, and stir constantly to scrape up any drippings in the bottom of the pan, 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and pepper flakes. Whisk in the butter-flour mixture; continue to whisk until sauce thickens slightly. Season with more salt, if desired.

Slice roast and spoon some sauce over slices. Garnish with rosemary sprigs, if desired. Serve remaining sauce separately. Makes 6 servings.

Note: Ask your butcher to cut meat from the thicker end of the tenderloin. To crush fennel seeds, place in a self-sealing bag and pound with a meat pounder or rolling pin, or grind seeds coarsely in a small spice mill.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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