inspiration in tassie.


vaguely Spanish braised beef cheeks with tomato bread There a few things in life more enjoyable than a long leisurely lunch. Throw in an idyllic setting in the form of a tree-fringed balcony with views over rolling hills straight out to the ocean. Throw in a group of like-minded girlfriends from Melbourne town, relaxing on a weekend away and ready for a few good laughs. Throw in an ex-Sydney based chef turned food photographer turn born again chef and his ever-so-charming partner manning the front of house. Throw in a relaxed yet modern menu that takes cues from both Italy and Spain I’m pretty sure you have the makings of a seriously memorable lunch.

Over the Easter long weekend I was lucky enough to have the pleasure of just such a lunch at a little restaurant called Pecora at Birchs Bay in Tasmania, a brief drive south of the capital Hobart. Now before you get excited and start booking tickets on the Spirit of Tasmania, there’s one thing you need to know. Pecora is no longer in existence. The Easter weekend was their last of trading before they closed for the ‘Winter’, with no certain plans of opening next season in the same location.

I know it does seem a little strange to be writing about a place that you can no longer visit. Even if it was one of the best lunches I’ve enjoyed in a very long time. One of those lunches where you decide to order one of everything on the 8 item menu and share them one by one. One of those lunches where every new dish raises the level of excitement. One of those lunches where even the tripe tastes delicious (all be it deep fried and camouflaged with a salad of salami, shaved cabbage and pine nut tarator). But the thing is that it was at this lunch that I got the inspiration to try my hand at cooking beef cheeks.

I’ll never forget the look on the face of one of my dining companions when it was announced that the ‘carne’ was going to be beef cheeks. And then to have one of my other mates patiently explain that the beef ‘cheeks’ were from the rump, the cow’s bottom, patting her own derriere for emphasis. It was all too funny really and then to try and convince them that the cheeks were the actual cheeks from the head. I knew I’d just have to try cooking them myself this winter.

Softly, softly slow cooked in a Spanish-inspired sauce of smoky paprika, tomato, red wine and olives, the cheeks become gelatinously melted and tender with a super rich and flavoursome sauce. Just the thing for tucking into on a chilly autumn evening with plenty of crusty bread for mopping up the juices, passing the time until the good people from Pecora open their next venture….all good things.

Spanish braised beef cheeks with tomato bread
serves 4
Adapted from a recipe by Emma Knowles & Lisa Featherby published in the April 08 Australian Gourmet Traveller.

If you aren’t able or willing to track down beef cheeks feel free to substitute in osso buco or large chunks of stewing steak. Smoky paprika adds a lovely complexity and is now available in the spice section of most supermarkets but I’m sure it would still be pretty tasty without it.

This is a great dish for entertaining as you can cook the cheeks in advance and then just reheat and serve with some crusty bread bought on your way home from work.

3T olive oil
2 red onions, peeled & diced
4 beef cheeks, approx 250g each
4 cloves garlic, peeled & smashed
400g can tomatoes
1T ground cumin
2T smoky paprika
1 1/2C (375mL) red wine
2C (500mL) chicken stock
3 bay leaves
large handful green olives
for the tomato bread:
4 large slices sourdough
1 clove garlic, halved cross wise
handful cherry tomatoes, torn in half
extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 150C. Heat a large heavy based flame proof casserole dish over a medium low flame. Add oil and onions and cook covered stirring occasionally for approx 15mins or until onions are softened but not browned. Add cheeks, garlic, tomatoes, spices, wine, stock and bay leaves and bring to a simmer.

Cover and place in the oven for 4 hours, turning cheeks occasionally. Season and add olives and continue to cook for another 2 hours or until the meat is meltingly tender. If the sauce is too brothy, remove cheeks and set aside and simmer sauce until it reaches the desired consistency. Return cheeks and warm through.

For the tomato bread, lightly toast the sourdough slices on one side and rub the toasted side of each with the cut surface of the garlic. Smash halved tomatoes over the bread and drizzle with oil. Serve cheeks hot with bread for mopping up the juices passed separately.

white anchovy & parsley salad
serves 4 as an accompaniment
Adapted from a recipe by Emma Knowles & Lisa Featherby published in the April 08 Australian Gourmet Traveller.

The trick with this salad is making sure your parsley leaves aren’t too large and tough. Home grown would be preferable as they tend to be more delicate than commercial leaves. If you can only find tough old leaves, I’d recommend softer leaves like baby spinach.

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves picked and torn
4 white anchovy fillets, halved lengthwise
1T sherry vinegar
3T extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together oil and vinegar and season well. Toss through parsley leaves and transfer to a serving bowl. Drape over anchovies and serve immediately.



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