Recipe For A Cold Weather Classic
Forecasters predict a mild winter this year, but we can always expect a few of those cold days when a fire and hearty meal at home meet our needs.
A favorite at our home is osso buco, an Italian favorite that originated in Milan. The name literally means “bone with a hole,” a description of the marrow bone in the center of the veal shanks. The bone’s content is the crown jewel of the dish. Restaurants often serve a tiny spoon to retrieve all of the marrow from the bone.
To make this succulent dish, you season the shanks, flour and brown them, and cook in an aromatic white wine sauce until the meat is practically falling off the bones. Why white wine? Because the veal is delicate and should not be overpowered by a heavier red.
The only drawbacks are that veal shanks are quite expensive and not always found in chain supermarkets, with local grocery stores more likely to have them. A less expensive and more readily available version uses beef shanks, in which case you can use red wine and beef broth to accompany the bolder flavor of the beef.
In Italy, risotto is a frequent companion for osso buco, but in New Orleans, you are more likely to see it with pasta. Polenta and rice are also good options.
Some chefs accompany osso buco with gremolata, a chopped herb condiment classically made of lemon zest, garlic, parsley and anchovy.
It’s optional when used as a garnish, since most cooks put the ingredients in the sauce itself with anchovies being optional.
The recipe has many variations. Some cooks use lamb or pork shanks. Chef Mario Batali cuts his veal shanks three inches thick. My preference are veal shanks, imported tomatoes and a small shot of cayenne, an ingredient that I often slip into a recipe that doesn’t call for it.
I’m guessing a lot of local Italian cooks sneak it in, too.
Relatively speaking, osso buco is an easy dish to produce because most of its cooking time is spent in the oven. Some say it is better cooked the day before to absorb all of the flavors. At the least, it’s easy to work into a busy schedule.
Milanese Osso Buco
4 to 6 veal shanks, 1 ½ inches thick
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne pepper (if desired)
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup imported Cento San Marzano tomatoes, chopped and juice combined
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary leaves, removed from stalk
1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1. Sprinkle the shanks with salt, pepper and a little cayenne, if desired. Place twine around the edges of the shanks to secure the meat to the bone. Add more seasoning to the flour, roll the shanks in flour, and shake off excess.
2. Preheat oven to 375.
3. Heat olive oil in heavy Dutch oven, and brown the shanks over high heat on both sides. Remove from pot. Add onions, carrots and celery to the pot and saute over medium heat until transparent. Add garlic and saute a minute more. Add tomatoes, wine, broth, lemon zest, bay leaf and rosemary. Mix well and reduce over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Return shanks to pot. Cover and bring contents of pot to a boil.
4. Place pot, covered, in preheated oven for about 1 ½ hours or until meat is very tender. Remove from heat, and stir in parsley. Serve with your choice of pasta, risotto, rice or polenta. Place one shank on each plate with the accompanying side dish, and spoon gravy from the pot over all.
Serves 4 to 6.
Warm side dish
Baked Acorn squash
There are many winter side choices. One of the easiest and best is baked acorn squash. Cut acorn squash in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place as many as you need, cut side up, on a baking pan with 2 tablespoons butter and a 2 tablespoons of brown sugar in the center of each. Put in a 350-degree oven. When butter melts, mix sugar and butter together, and brush over the meat of the squash. Bake until fork-tender, basting occasionally. One half equals one serving.