Being the only member of my immediate family that lives in Sydney has, more recently, become a little testing. I moved here seventeen years ago in my very early 20’s to pursue a career and gather some experience with loose intentions of heading back to Brisbane where the rest of my family is based. I was always the independent type and got on with whatever life threw at me, and as my feet gradually became firmly planted on Sydney’s urban soil I knew I’d never make it back to Queensland.
With the years going at warp speed I’ve learnt that spending time with loved ones is increasingly important, and even though they’re less than two hours away by aircraft, I wish I could snap my fingers and join in on the family gatherings. Rather than just hear about what went on, drama or not, and complete the unit more than once or twice a year.
As a teen I fondly remember the Sunday roast in the middle of tropical summers. Sweating like fools eating soup, followed by roast something-or-other in humid 38°C temps or basting a lamb or pig on the spit in the blistering sun. It was all about food, not comfort, and man do I miss those spit-roasted meats!
Anyone that follows my tweets may have picked up the odd vent regarding the discovery of termites in our kitchen which led to a major overhaul at the back of the house including a gorgeous new kitchen and the completion of the back courtyard. Messy and stressful to say the least, but finally, we can entertain!
The clear blue skies and warm spring sun have come around so what a perfect time to invite some of our friends for a lazy Sunday afternoon of catching up, eating and drinking. If I can’t have my family over as often as I’d like, I can always try gathering a bunch of friends.
The busy lives that we all lead makes organising a date a little challenging and even though it happens just a few times a year I relish the moment when it does. A few nibbles, salads, bread and dessert are brought by the others and the rest I take great pleasure in knocking up for a Sunday afternoon of serious munching.
As one of the starters I whipped up a rustic baked ricotta marbled with fresh herbs and drizzled with muscatels mascerated in marsala wine. We were off to a great start, especially when a certain trash bag knocks over a full glass of red. It’s my house and I can spill if I want to. When the next dish came out there was a flurry of finger action at the tasty little rosemary, lemon & pomegranate chicken bits and an almost stunned silence when they were all tucking into the sticky and tender braised soy and ginger spare ribs.
The final savoury dish is one that took a while to cook; not a great deal of work, mind you, just enough time to get the 5-hour beef cheek ragù at it’s optimum tenderness. I served it with homemade pasta purchased from Eveleigh Market and with a couple of salads it went down a treat. Crusty bread on the side is essential and rather than virgin olive oil or straight butter I went one step further and pimped up a stick of unsalted butter by rolling it in a mixture of sea salt and cracked black pepper; an idea I swiped from a recent dinner at The Mill restaurant in the Hunter Valley. I used smoked sea salt flakes for that extra punch.
A Sunday lunch wouldn’t be complete without something sweet and thanks to the help of an eager 4-year old we had freshly whipped cream to slather all over a home-made meringue base. Yes that’s right, it was pavlova time.
The recipe for my 5-hour beef cheek ragù follows but if you want to know how to make my ricotta, chicken or pork dishes you’ll see the recipes soon. Stay tuned.
This recipe couldn’t be simpler. The use of beef cheek and the rustic flavours of the other ingredients go hand in hand and if you can’t get your hands on beef cheek try gravy/shin beef instead. This isn’t just a pasta sauce either. Rather than breaking up the meat leave it whole and serve it with buttery mash or polenta and loads of fresh crusty bread.
Preheat oven to 150°C.
Salt and pepper the beef cheeks as you heat a large frying pan over high flame. Brown the meat in batches and transfer to an oven-proof casserole with a lid.
Reduce the heat to medium, add a little more oil and sauté the onion and garlic until soft, add the carrot and cook 1 minute longer. Toss in the herbs and deglaze the pan with the red wine. Add the Campbells Real Beef Stock and the chopped tomato and bring to the boil. Pour this over the browned beef, cover with the lid and cook in the oven for 5 hours, stirring once or twice during cooking.
To serve as a pasta sauce simply break up the meat and mix through your choice of cooked pasta. Just remember to remove the herbs.