This is a meal for modest celebrations. It’s about that time. I think I’m officially on maternity leave. Well, at least until January, when the edits for the book come back. It’s strange to be starting your maternity leave when your baby is 15 weeks old- right about the time when others are slinking back to the grind.

I have to say; I like it.

When baby Will wakes 4 times a night (cold? hot?  hungry? bad dream? just aching to stretch his face and grin at someone?) I don’t dread the arrival of the light so much. Maybe we’ll take a nap later on; sleep when baby sleeps. It’s much easier to snooze when you haven’t got the fourth version of a blue cheese souffle in the oven, to get the timing just right.

In the mornings I read to him. Now we reach for ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar instead of dry tomes on the merits of a slow carbohydrate diet. In the middle of the day, I’m getting to know him better. We chat. Well, mainly I talk to him and he screeches back at me, or towards a stuffed cow or squishy R2D2  that he’s fixated on with equal measure. He does this with the intensity of of a shopping centre spruiker with a tinny microphone. ‘MUM MUM THERE’S A COW HERE. SERIOUSLY. A COW. IT’S AMAZING. A COW’. Or perhaps he’s mastered string theory. Hard to tell.

And we get out. The first proper day of it we wandered around an Australian supermarket, him grinning up at everyone who passed from the snug cocoon of his stroller. We didn’t dash in and out with a list of ingredients that we needed for the next days of testing. We just meandered and mused. It was air conditioned in there. They’d started playing Christmas carols. We picked out some basics and took delight in buying our first mango of the season. I took five minutes to choose a new conditioner. When a friend called, I couldn’t stop raving about how civilised it all was. I think she thought I’d lost my mind; but really- I’m just starting to gather it back together.

There are plenty of coffee dates out and about; some with friends, sometimes just us and the newspaper.

And there are relaxed meals at home.

Once upon a time The Hungry One and I would have celebrated a milestone with a splash out dinner (and we did, sort of last weekend- dashing down the south coast and having a quick, first meal out-sans-Will at Nowra’s hatted ‘Wharf Road. Except Will then rewarded us for our escapade by waking every hour, on the hour for the remainder of the night. It was a little bit of a wash).

In our old life we probably would have gone to a steak house. We’d start with oysters and then order sirloins and a staggering amount of sides; tomato and tarragon salad, mac and cheese, creamed spinach, duck fat chips and two sauces. There would be champagne and a bottle of ballsy red. The Hungry One would probably order a chocolate pudding and a glass of Pedro Ximenex to close. And we’d stumble out at 11 pm in a fog of  gluttonous self satisfaction.

These days, steak night is more likely to look like this.

But occasionally it’s nice to do something different. Inspiration slips through easily when you’ve got time and space to ponder. Which is how instead of rib eye with creamed kale and tomato salad, we sat down to this.

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Steak tagliata is an excellent, Italian style way to stretch a piece of meat for a crowd (which can also be a boon when you stop working for a while). Charring a piece of beef and cutting it into ribbons and scattering it over a bed of rocket it makes use of negative space. It tricks you into thinking there’s more on the plate that there is. It’s also an easy way to combine main and sides as one. It’s traditionally served with rocket and shaved parmesan- but I find the addition of some charred mushrooms adds some pleasing earthiness and some garlic and dijon dressed lentils help stretch it even further. Of course you could soak and cook your own brown lentils or quickly whip up some du puy- but if you’ve got a 20 minute window to produce dinner in between when the baby has had a bath and needs its bottom patted off to sleep, then some good quality brown lentils from a tin, drained and rinsed will do just fine.

A few caveats; bring the steak to room temperature before you grill it- this will help it cook more evenly and be sure to let it rest for a few minutes before you cleave it into ribbons- otherwise your chopping board will become a crimson crime scene.  Don’t be shy with the seasoning. And be sure the serve the parmesan in elegant wafts, (best fashioned with a vegetable peeler). Grated any other way, it will just resemble dandruff.

Serve it from a big platter with a glass of red wine while your baby snuffles and grunts next to you.

Maternity leave? I think we’re going to get on just fine.

Steak Tagliata with Lentils and Mushrooms

Serves 2 Hungry Ones

Equipment
1 barbecue or griddle pan

Shopping/foraging

For the grill
2 x 200-300 g sirloin steaks, at room temperature (take them out of the fridge and plastic 20-30 minutes before cooking)
1 stick of rosemary
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to season
4 x medium portobello mushrooms (approx 120 g)
1 x lemon, halved

For the salad
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 x 400 g tin of brown lentils, rinsed and drained
1 tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
30 g of parmesan, shaved
2 double handfuls of baby rocket leaves

 

 Here’s how we roll

1) Preheat the grill/barbecue or a griddle pan. Separate all of the things that need to go outside to the barbecue (steak, 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, lemon halves and mushrooms).

2) Place the olive oil and slivered garlic in a fry pan over low heat and warm to infuse the garlic into the oil.

3) Add the drained and rinsed lentils and gently sautee to warm through and continue cooking the garlic. Finish by stirring through the dijon mustard and seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

4) Season the steaks. Place the steaks, whole mushrooms and lemons, cut side down on the barbecue over a medium-high heat. Brush the steaks with olive oil using the rosemary as a brush. Cook the steaks until they are burnished on the outside but medium rare (about 2 minutes each side- you can test by pressing into the steak- it should feel like the fleshy pad on the heel of your hand). Set aside to rest under foil for 5 minutes. Pull the mushrooms and lemon off when they have developed some colour.

5) To assemble the salad lay the rocket leaves down the centre of a platter. Scatter with the lentils. Cut the steaks  and the mushrooms on a diagonal into strips approximately 1.5 cm thick. Distribute the strips of steak and mushroom over the lentils and top with shaved parmesan. Drizzle with a little extra olive oil and squeeze the caramellised lemon halves over for a dressing.