A Feast of Memories at All’ Antica

Image source: Photographer Ian Waldie

A location and a dish with the power to transport you to another time and place. Words by John Caruso.

Food, and the enjoyment of it, preparation and consumption, transcends mere sustenance. As the son of Italian parents who both enjoyed cooking, I’ve seen food become an art form that speaks to our senses and connects us across generations and geographies. Every dish has a story to tell and an experience to offer.

My childhood home stood as a testament to my Italian heritage – every Sunday, the house was filled with the aroma of onions and garlic sautéing in olive oil, a signal that mum was in the kitchen, her hands working magic on the old stove. The beef cheek ragu was the star of our Sunday lunches with mum searing the beef cheeks locking in the flavours, ready to then be slow-cooked, rendering the fat and tenderising the meat down to that melt-in-your-mouth ragu ready for the gnocchi. 

Our dining table, draped in a colourful tablecloth set with the cutlery and red paper napkins, was the stage for these Sunday performances. It was here that we would gather, sharing stories and laughter over plates of gnocchi and red wine, served in small water glasses. Dad, with his infectious humour, would have us all in stitches, his jokes eliciting peals of laughter from my son, Maximus, who with his youthful exuberance, would often end up with more ragu on his face and the tablecloth than in his mouth.

But those stains were badges of honour and pride for my Mum, Max’s Nonna, signs of a meal thoroughly enjoyed. These memories are not just confined to my parents’ home. They live on in the gnocchi with beef cheek ragu served at All’ Antica, one of our favourite Italian restaurants on the coast. Shane McNally is the head chef and owner, along with his wife Helen and when I saw him recently, I asked if he’s channelling an old Italian nonna when he prepares the dish each day.

“I worked with a lady called Renza, who was from Trento in Italy, on the northern alps near the Austrian border, where they use a lot of wooded herbs like rosemary and their prime source of protein is a lot of game, lamb and beef,” he shared.

“It gets very cold in winter, so slow-cooked food is a big part of their lifestyle and our beef-cheek ragu draws inspiration from Renza and from the region she came from.

“The beef cheeks are sealed off at a high temperature, deglazed with red wine, and then we cut the temperature back and slow-cook them for four hours.

“I was experimenting with the dish towards the end of summer in preparation for winter so we put it on the menu – and it was selling so well that we added it before the colder season.

“It’s become a very popular dish with our customers,” says Shane.

I’m not surprised. Each mouthful takes me back to that large kitchen table at my parents’ place – the aromas, the tastes, and the laughs echoing in my mind, a testament to the enduring power of food and family.


GNOCCHI WITH BEEF CHEEK RAGU

Ingredients:

  • 2 or 3 whole beef cheeks (around 1kg)
  • 1 cup diced brown onion
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 8 whole garlic cloves
  • 2-3 tablespoons Italian or Tuscan herbs
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • Sea salt & cracked pepper
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 3 tins of Italian chopped tomatoes
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup of water
  • Fresh Grana Padano cheese or parmesan (optional)
  • 1kg fresh or Italian pre-made gnocchi – or make from scratch using a good recipe, I like Jamie Oliver’s recipe, available online.

Method:

  1. Put all beef cheeks in large roasting or thick bottom casserole pan.
  2. Rub meat with dry herbs, salt and pepper & olive oil. Roast on 180°c until meat is well browned.
  3. Remove meat from oven – add red wine to deglaze plus chopped tomatoes, rosemary, garlic and 1 cup of water.
  4. Return to oven on low heat 120°-140°c for 2-4 hours.
  5. Once meat is soft, slowly pull apart
  6. Prepare the gnocchi according to the instructions – generally by poaching the gnocchi in batches in a pan of lightly salted water for 2-4 minutes. Gnocchi will float to the top when cooked.
  7. Strain and serve immediately with the beef cheek ragu.
  8. Garnish with fresh Grana Padano or parmesan cheese, if desired.

Plating:

Place 150 to 200 grams (or desired serving size) of gnocchi on each plate and place your beef cheek ragu on top and garnish with Grana Padano or parmesan.

About the Author /

[email protected]

After 30 years in radio, John now runs the Conversations IN Noosa podcast and in between being our writer, sanity checker, accounts manager, event MC, and delivery boy; he spends time with his first love, recording a daily Drive program for regional radio from home (often in his pyjamas); and presenting Saturday mornings on Hot 91.1. He has previously worked for FoxFM Melbourne, Triple M Brisbane and SeaFM, as well as managing and presenting on ABC Sunshine Coast.

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