11 October 2010

AUNTI PASTA: Shhh, It’s Ossobuco Time

Ossobucco alla Milanese
SARONNO, Italy - You should never say the word ossobuco, or l’ òs büüs in Milanese dialect, out loud in Milan. Just the name of this slow braised veal shank is enough to bring the strongest of the strong Milanese to tears. Mention that you paired it with risotto Milanese, that is risotto with saffron and parmigiano cheese, and you’ll have them on their knees.

The Makings of a Good Soffrito

Few dishes affect the ever-so-busy, ever-so-chic Milanese like this one does. And yet it is a simple dish to make. The traditional recipe calls for veal shanks, patiently braised in white wine and broth, with the addition of a battuta of celery, carrots, onion and parsley and served with Risotto alla Milanese. It is one of the few “piatti unici”, or one dish meals in Italian cooking.

Veal Shanks

It takes a couple of hours to prepare ossobuco but the results are worth it. The veal shanks, which should be at least two inches thick, are first dipped in flour, and then browned in a rather heavy pot or deep frying pan. If the shanks are very large, one per person should be enough, otherwise two, or even three will do if they are very small.

You can find dozens of recipes for ossobuco on the internet so I won’t publish one here, but I will tell you that the wine, a couple of fresh tomatoes or a small can of peeled tomatoes, a cup or two of beef broth, a soffritto of onions, celery and carrots paired with the veal shanks creates the most delicious sauce. It even goes well even with mashed potatoes, but don’t tell anybody I said that. If you decide to take the traditional route and make risotto as a side dish, you might want to reduce the amount of parmigiano cheese you normally would use in the risotto.

Makings of Gremolada

For many Milanese the best part of the dish is the marrow. There is a special long-handled spoon called an esattore that they use to dig it out of the bone. But don’t despair if you are a marrow fan but don’t happen to have an esattore on hand. A demitasse or baby spoon works just as well. In Milan the act of scooping the marrow out of the bone is called riscuotere le tasse or tax collecting, maybe because of the determined way marrow eaters try to get every little bit of marrow out of the bone. Actually one of the secrets of making a really good risotto is to mix in a spoonful of bone marrow in with the rice before you start adding broth.

The Winning Combination: Ossobuco with Risotto Milanese

The most traditional way to serve ossobuco is with a simple condiment called gremolada. It is made with parsley, garlic, a little lemon zest and half a canned anchovy all finely chopped together. If you intend to eat the bone marrow add the gremolada to the center of the shank bones just before serving the dish. Otherwise you can add a little to the sauce. Either way it adds a certain zing to the dish, or as the Italians would say, si sposa bene con ossobuco.

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