I would like to think of myself as part cook, part food historian and part glutton. Of course I would like to think of myself as the saviour of the modern world, it does not mean I am.
Top of my gastro-historical knowledge search has always been Ossobuco. There are many ways to spell it, as you may have guessed this means that there are many ways to cook it. Traditionally made alla Bianco but now made a little richer with tomatoes. The Bianco version is tomato-less and subtly flavoured with allspice, cinnamon and bay – lovingly finished off with Gremolata, finely chopped parsley, garlic and lemon peel. Both version contain the main attraction(cue music): A large chunk of bone in the middle hiding a delicate quivering nugget of marrow.
Although I do love the Bianco version the altogether young pretender of Veal shins is my choice for company.I normally make Ossobuco for a special occasion. Knocking up some rich veal stock in advance, getting some beautiful tomatoes and making a silky passata. However one can still make a delicious version with a little care and shop bought ingredients.
Some friends were coming around for dinner and I could not for the life of me think what to make. When I had popped out at lunchtime for something to eat and found myself in the shops, I saw some very pretty Veal shins and my mind was made up instantly. I could already taste that buttery soft meat and that rich thick sauce. With an afternoon of proper paid work ahead it was a quick-lunch and an even quicker prep time in the kitchen. The beauty of Ossobuco is that you can leave it simmering away (hob or oven, take your pick) and get on with other things.
Traditionally it is served with Risotto Milanese (saffron risotto) a beautiful orange colour dish with that indescribable taste of the crocus stamen – slightly earthy, sweet and medicinal all at the same time. I have served it with mash and just alone with some greens, but this time I plumped for stir-fried cavolo nero and spelt risotto with peas.
6 big veal shins (sliced about an inch and a half thick)
1 stick of celery
A handful of dried porcini
50g of butter
250ml dry white wine
350ml good veal stock (chicken will work as well)
Handful of sage leaves, about 20 or so for the particular people.
a little flour (seasoned)
Pepper…pepper and more pepper
If you have a big casserole dish with a lid now is the time to get it out of the cupboard.
Take the Veal Shins and cover them lightly in the seasoned flour. I always find that the best way to do this is to pop the flour in a big plastic bag (obviously without the safety breathing holes!) and then pop each shin in one by one and shake around until they are covered.
In a bowl add some hot water to cover the porcini, and leave to one side.
In the casserole pop half the butter (and a slug of olive oil to stop it burning) and when hot, in a single layer, seal the shins. Repeat till you are done, adding more butter if necessary.
Finely chop the Carrot, Onion, Celery and soften in the casserole for about 10 mins, don’t brown them. Whack up the heat and pop in the wine, let it bubble down to about a third of its original volume.
Drain and reserve the liquid from the porcini. Roughly chop the porcini and half the sage leaves and add to the casserole with the passata, porcini juice and the stock. Drop in the shins so that they are all covered. Season, VERY well.
Now you can split the cooking into another casserole if yours are too small, as long as everything is equally split and covered in liquid, all is good.
Now you can leave this on a hob on a very low flame for about 4hours – or leave it in an oven at about 160C for about 4 hours. Check every hour or so and if necessary top up with a little water.
The sauce will thicken and darken, the meal will contract and soften so much you could mistake it for butter.
Take the remaining sage leaves and the remaining butter and fry till the leaves ae crispy, add a little salt and pepper and drizzle over the shins when you serve.