Cheek meat is probably one of my favorite cuts of meat. It is normally extremely tender when you slow cook the meat using the braising technique. Beef and pork cheeks are probably one of the easiest to obtain at the market. Cheek meat from lamb and veal are a little harder to come across although they are available (ask your butcher). If you can get them I would highly recommend you trying them. Halibut cheeks are also wonderful and they have a completely different texture than the fillet, but I'm not doing fish today. Beef cheeks are a lot bigger and fattier because of the animal. You do loose a bit of weight from the beef cheeks because of the fat you need to trim away, but again it is well worth it. I decided to braise the cheeks and stuff the meat inside some home made agnolotti pasta and serve with a wonderful variation to tomato sauce. With it being summertime and having an endless array of tomatoes, it is always nice to have something to do with them if you are looking to cook with them. This sauce is really good and could easily be eaten as a soup
3 cups of semolina flour
4 eggs and 1 egg yolk
3 tbsp of water
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tsp of salt
flour for dusting
Beef Cheek Braise
3 lb of beef cheeks cleaned and trimmed of fat, cut into 2 by 2 inch pieces
3 tbsp of olive oil
1 large onion
1 garlic bulb cut in half
2 stalks of celery
3 cups of red wine
1/4 cup of tomato paste
5 cups of water or stock
1 sprig of rosemary
2 large sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
Scraps-- if you have green onions, mushrooms stems, tomato scrapes, parsley toss those in as well
1 tbsp of white truffle oil
salt and pepper
Eggplant Parmesan Tomato Sauce
2 large eggplant roasted or 6 japanese eggplant (we had both varieties growing
4 cups of fresh heirloom tomatoes
1 onion chopped
4 garlic cloves minced
2 tsp of chili flakes
4 cups of chicken stock or water
3 oz of fresh parmesan reggiano cheese
5 tbsp of olive oil
1/4 cup of basil leaves
salt and pepper
For the beef cheeks
In a large braising pot on medium high heat add your olive oil. Then season the trimmed beef cheeks with salt and pepper on both sides and add to the pot. Sear the cheeks for about 5 minutes on the first side and then turn over. Cook for 2 minutes and then add all of the vegetables ( onion, carrot, celery, leek, garlic bulb, herbs). Cook for another 3 minutes and then add the red wine. Let the wind reduce by half and then add the tomato paste and stock. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer and cover the pot. Let the cheeks braise for 2 1/2 hours or until the meat is very tender. Turn off and let the cheeks start to cool down in the liquid.
For the pasta,
On a cutting board or in a large wide bowl add your flour. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add your eggs. With a fork or your finger mix the eggs. Add your water, oil, and salt to the eggs. Then with your fork gradually start pulling flour from the bottom and inside of your well into the egg mixture. Continue to do so until you can't use your fork anymore. Then get rid of the fork and use your hands to form a smooth dough. Knead for 5 minutes and then wrap in plastic and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
For the Eggplant parmesan sauce
In a large sauce pot add olive oil and onions. Saute for 4 minutes and then add chili flakes, and garlic. Cook for another 2 minutes and then add your tomatoes. Season the tomatoes with salt aggressively. This will draw out the water of the tomatoes. Add your stock or water and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cover for 30 minutes. Then add your roasted eggplant ( no skin, just pulp) and continue to cook for another 30 to 45 minutes. Then transfer everything to a blender (vitamix, you might have to do in batches) adding basil leaves and the parmesan cheese. Blend until smooth. Continue until all is blended smooth. Adjust the seasoning if needed with salt and pepper. You might have to add a bit of water (or half and half for a creamier texture) if it is too thick. keep warm and set aside.
Meanwhile, take out the beef cheeks while they are still warm and place in a bowl. Also scoop out the onion from the braising liquid and place in the bowl with the cheek meat. Using tongs or your hands break up the meat and onions into small bits. You want the meat really small so that it will be easy to fill the pasta. Season the meat with salt, pepper, truffle oil, and a little of the braising liquid if the meat seems a little dry. You want the mixture to be moist but not overly wet. Set aside and let it come to room temperature.
Then take out your paste and cut in half, keeping the one half covered. Take the other half and roll out thin enough to get into the pasta machine, using flour to dust as needed. Using the pasta machine start putting the pasta through the machine. I normally run my pasta all the way down folding the pasta 2 to 3 times to work up the gluten. Then on the third time through I take it down until about the 5 or 6 slot on the kitchen aid attachment pasta machine. Again using flour as needed. Then taking your biggest round cookie cutter make a round cut in the pasta. Peel away the excess and use again. Take your round pasta and place a spoonful of the cheek mixture in the middle. Repeat until all the rounds are filled. Then with a pastry brush and a cup of water ( you can use egg too instead of water) brush around half of the round. Then fold the pasta over to create a half moon or empanada shape. Place on sheet pan lined with parchment paper and flour dusted. Repeat until all beef mixture has been used. You should be able to get about 40 to 50 agnolotti's depending on how big your rounds are. You will probably have pasta left over and use for another application.
Place a pot of salted water on the stove and bring to a boil. Once it has come to a boil place as many agnolotti's as you want to eat into the water. Boil for about 3 to 4 minutes or until they float and are tender. Strain out into a saute pan and add your eggplant parmesan sauce. Adjust seasoning if needed and then place on the plate. Finish the pasta with fresh grated parmesan, chives, and olive oil. Serve and enjoy a taste of Italy!