Lola and Finn's Mum

Lola and Finn's Mum

Monday, 18 February 2013

Not exactly authentic, but then I am not a nonna: Beef Cheeks Braciole

...and because I'm not a nonna I have no sage like and senior reputation to maintain. I can take something and make it work with what I have, which actually is probably what great nonnas (let me move on from this Italian situation I have put myself into) and grandmas and on this occasion, mums do.
My last foray into Urban Italian by Andrew Carmellini was what can only be described as 'spectacular' not least because my favourite food critic in the whole world, five year old Finn, ate the Lamb Ragu I made with what can only be described as gusto. So, I had to make something else, didn't I? There is a recipe named 'Short Ribs Braciole' which gives an overview of just what a braciole is and then waxes lyrical about short ribs and slow cooking and since I wouldn't know short ribs if I fell over them (and neither does most of the UK it seems; some googling revealed that the nearest thing we have are the fore ribs but they're not widely available) but I do know slow cooking, I decided to sub the ribs for beef cheek, which is dirt cheap and produces tender, soft meat when cooked long and slow, and I think it worked. I also think you can cook over braising and slow cooking cuts of meat in this way. Oxtail anyone?
This is a reasonably involved activity initially and towards the end of cooking, but the cooking time in between is long enough to involve yourself in something truly meaningless meaningful. I sorted out the washing, in case you're interested. The topping, which I put together towards the end of the cooking process is actually really lovely and if you didn't realise it already, the addition of this at the end of cooking makes you realise the importance of texture to the whole eating experience. I made more of the topping than I could rightly serve and so kept the remainder in the fridge. I sprinkled some over cooked pasta that I had for lunch one day and it was ridiculously good. Cucina povera isn't as poor as you might think.
This was well received by Lola, who is a good girl and who appreciates the food that is put in front of her. Finn ate some of it, but had been busy recreating the prehistoric world with his dinosaurs and eating a meal was an unwelcome interruption. He ate some, he made his excuses and left.  I gave the kids the option of having the topping. Finn looked at it disapprovingly and Lola said she preferred Parmesan only. Don't let their reticence put you off. Crunchy, beefy, tomatoey, yummy.
Beef Cheeks Braciole, adapted from 'Short Ribs Braciole' in 'Urban Italian' by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad and one other, generously.
(American recipe, so uses 'cups')
½ cup roughly diced pancetta (about ¼ pound)
1 beef cheek, cut into chunks
1 heaping tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 small onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 clove garlic, chopped thinly
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Two tins of chopped tomatoes - pick good quality ones
¼ cup pine nuts, chopped roughly
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup panko breadcrumbs (I happened to have these, but I reckon blitzing up a couple of slices of stale bread would be fine)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
a pinch each of salt and coarse ground black pepper
2 tablespoon grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Cook the pancetta in a large, dry, ovenproof sauce pot over medium-high heat until the fat renders, about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. Remove to a plate.
Season the pieces of beef cheeks on both sides with salt and pepper, add them to the pan, and brown the meat, about 5 minutes. (I did this in two batches and then removed them to a plate).
Add the onion and cook until it softens, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and the red pepper flakes, mix well, and continue cooking.
Add the tinned tomatoes to the pot along with their juice. Bring the mixture up to a low boil.
Remove the pot from the stove and place it in the oven. Check the pot every so often to make sure it's not boiling too hard. Cook until the meat is super tender and a fork can pass through it without sticking, about 2½ hours.
To make the topping, toast the pine nuts in a dry sauté pan over low heat, shaking the pan occasionally to avoid burning or sticking, about 8 minutes.
Add the olive oil and mix well. Add the panko breadcrumbs and continue cooking over low heat, mixing occasionally, until everything is toasty brown, about 2 minutes.
Add the oregano and parsley. Season with the salt and pepper and cook together for a few seconds, so everything is warmed but the parsley does not wilt.
Remove from the heat and then add the Parmesan (not before, otherwise, you'll have a melted-cheese mess).
When ready to serve, remove the pot from the oven and if you need to, (I didn't) remove any visible oil that may be on the surface.
If you want to loosen the sauce a little, add a few tablespoons of water, one at a time and stir until you are happy with the consistency.
Place a serving of the stew on to warmed plates and sprinkle the topping generously over each dish.
Serve immediately.

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