Way back when ““ on our honeymoon actually ““ Dave and I had a scrumptious meal at a Northern Italian restaurant in St. Thomas called Romano’s (woo-hoo…I just checked and it’s still there!), featuring New Jersey-native chef-owner Tony Romano’s outstanding osso bucco. I had never before eaten osso bucco, with its braised veal shanks melting into a rich sauce, atop perfect, glistening saffron risotto, with a sprinkling of bright gremolata. I instantly learned the ambrosial joy that a marrow spoon can bring! The dish was positively beguiling, and still remains one of the most memorable meals we’ve ever had.
I tried for years to recreate the dish, along the way discovering the wonders of Italian veal butchers on Federal Hill and in the North End, but I couldn’t seem to get it spot-on. The veal has to be absolutely fresh to wind up soft and succulent, and the sauce can’t be too thick or too thin…it has to be “just right” ““ Goldilocks sauce.
Five years after our honeymoon, we celebrated our anniversary enjoying the magical charms of Napa Valley, and in St. Helena at a wonderful restaurant called Terra, we finally came across a classic Milanese osso bucco that rivaled Tony Romano’s. When Terra’s owners released a cookbook a couple of years later, I bought it just for that recipe. And it’s the one I’ve used ever since.
For years, I would make the dish occasionally just for David and me ““ because not containing chicken nuggets, pasta or hotdogs, my crew wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. But now that their sophisticated palates eat us out of house and home, I decided it was high time to wow them. And “wow” would be an understatement!
Good veal shanks still require a trip to a top-notch butcher ““ you won’t find them in a shrink-wrapped styrofoam package in the meat department at Super Stop & Shop. When we spotted fresh beauties at Citarella in East Hampton on our weekend out there earlier this month, we knew we needed to be osso bucco-ing in the immediate future. The butcher cut seven shanks just for us (the extra one for Elijah), and we packed them up in a cooler and brought them back with us to Westport. We figured if we were sadly being forced to cut the weekend short because the poor kids had to go to school on Columbus Day, at least we would be able to look forward to a glorious reward for dinner.
Suffice it to say that our kids definitely share our culinary genes. They went wild for the tender veal, and marveled at the creamy, al dente risotto. Two of them even discovered the exquisite delicacy that is bone marrow. Looks like osso buco is going to have to go into meal rotation at Cucina Reiser!
Ossobucco with Risotto Milanese
From Terra ““ Cooking from the Heart of Napa Valley © 2000 by Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani
One of the all-time great combinations of Italian cooking is braised veal shanks with saffron risotto and lemon-parsley gremolata. And that’s just the way we serve it at Terra. Nothing could be more gratifying to us than the telltale sound of a happy customer sucking the marrow out of the bone. Of course, you can offer your guests long, thin marrow spoons or even those all-purpose lobster picks with a scoop at one end to make the marrow retrieval easier. But for the truly passionate, ossobucco is best enjoyed as a “hand-to-mouth” experience.
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
1-1/2 teaspoons minced fresh basil
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup tomato puré
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 4 (1-pound) veal shanks, each cut into 1-1/2-inch- to 2-inch-thick pieces
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/8 teaspoon minced lemon zest
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup arborio rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
To make the ossobucco sauce: Preheat the oven to 325 °. In a large ovenproof saucepan or Dutch oven just large enough to hold the shanks in 1 layer, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over high heat and sautè the garlic, onion, carrot, and celery until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the basil, fennel seed, and pepper flakes, and sautè for 1 minute. Add the wine, chicken stock, and tomato puré and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper and decrease the heat to a simmer.
Season the veal shanks with salt and pepper, and lightly dust with flour. In a large sautè pan or skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add the veal shanks and brown well on each side. Transfer them to the simmering sauce, placing them in a single layer. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that develops. Cut a circle of parchment that fits just inside the pan and a 1-inch hole in the center. Place the paper on the ossobucco to cover and braise in the oven for about 2-1/2 hours, or until the veal shanks are very tender. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the shanks to an ovenproof plate or roasting pan and keep warm. Place the pan over high heat and cook until the sauce is reduced to 3 cups. Return the shanks to the sauce and heat through.
To make the gremolata: Mix together all the ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate.
To make the risotto: Combine the chicken stock and saffron in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer. In a medium, heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter, and sautè the onion and garlic until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the rice and sautè for about 3 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon until the outside of the rice becomes opaque. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Stir constantly, scraping the entire bottom of the pan until almost all the wine is absorbed by the rice. Add 1 cup of the simmering chicken stock. The rice should be kept at a fast simmer and not a boil as you stir and add stock. Stir the rice constantly until almost all the stock has been absorbed. Add 1/2 cup of the simmering stock and repeat the process until the rice is tender but firm. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and the Parmesan cheese.
To serve: Put a portion of the risotto to one side of each of 4 warmed shallow bowls. Put one veal shank in each bowl to the side of the risotto, spoon the sauce over the shanks, and sprinkle with the gremolata.
Using parchment as a lid: we use parchment paper instead of a lid so that the ingredients in the pot can lose some of their moisture while cooking. If you cover the pot with a lid, the steam that is released from the food recirculates into the sauce or braising liquid, and dilutes it. The parchment paper also helps to hold together the ingredients so there is less damage to a fragile piece of meat or vegetable.