The last two weeks have been terribly boring here in Jena, at least from the weather side: snow, snow and... guess what? More snow! I like snow, don't get me wrong. It awakens the child in me. It's just that after you've gone through the standard snowball fight, snowman building and sleigh riding it starts to get a bit on my nerves. Streets and sidewalks constantly covered with either sludge or smooth ice anyone?
At least cold wintery weather has a good side. It gives me the perfect excuse to stay at home cooking some nice hearty dish on the week-end and to open a nice bottle of full bodied red wine to go with that. Polenta is always nice when it snows, either served simply with cheeses or with a few different braised meats. Some nice rich German dish like Sauerbraten can also be a good warm-me-up. The best thing is to wrap yourself in enough clothing -till you look like the Michelin man possibly- and roll downhill to the market, see what's on sale and pick a dish. The pick of last week was a nice ossobuco, to be used for the classic ossobuco alla Milanese served with saffron risotto.
Ossobuco is one of those fantastic slow cooking dishes that fills the house with its mouthwatering aroma. After the initial browning of the meat you just have to wait, flipping the veal shanks maybe every 30 minutes or so. It gives you plenty of time to prepare the perfect match for the dish, risotto alla milanese. I'm not an ossobuco expert, so I won't be arguing if the soffritto should have only onions, or additions of one or more between garlic, pancetta, celery, carrot, sage or even anchovies. I've seen so many recipes before cooking the dish that I just decided to follow my own taste. A good tip I read in Allan Bay's "Cuochi si diventa", one of the most succesfull cooking books of the recent past in Italy, is to pick veal shanks from veals older than 8-9 months, otherwise you might end up with a hockey puck. I'm not sure it makes sense to me, after all ossobuco is a braised dish and with the right cooking time even meat from somewhat older animals should be fine. Still, I followed the advice, checking with my butcher, and the dish came out really nice. I messed slightly up, adding too much tomato to the sauce, but that's just me being mister clumsy.
Stimulated by the fantastic smell of the ossibuchi cooking, I picked a nice wine from Piemonte from my tiny wine collection a 2001 Barbera d'Alba from Bruno Rocca: fruity with cherry, plum and blackberry aromas, followed by just a touch of spice, full-bodied, the high alcohol (14%) nicely balanced by the acid and fine tannins, and with a very long and pleasant finish. Not exactly the Barbera my granddad would buy in large casks and bottle himself. It made a nice match for the rich ossobuco and even managed to balance the intense aromas of the gremolata. The ossobuco itself turned out very tender, delicious in its sauce, but the very best part of this dish remains for me digging some bone marrow out of the shank bone, placing it on top of a little risotto and just enjoy. Fat's heavan
Ossobuco alla Milanese
2 veal shanks, 3-4 cm thick
a small onion, finely diced
1/2 a carrot, finely diced
1/2 a celery stick, finely diced
1/2 glass of dry white wine
2 cups beef broth, possibly home made
2 canned peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 Tb butter and 2 Tb EV olive oil salt, pepper and a little flour
The zest from 1/2 a lemon
a handful of parsley
a garlic clove
make three-four cuts on the side of each veal shank to prevent it from curling up during cooking. Dust sparingly with flour.
Heat the butter and 1Tb oil in a pot large enough to contain the shanks. Brown the shanks in the hot fat and set aside.
Cook the chopped soffritto (onion, celery and carrot) over a low flame in the same pot, using the fat left over from browning the shanks plus the remaining oil, till the vegetables start getting soft.
Add the shanks back to the pot, season with salt and pepper. As soon as the meat starts to sizzle add the wine, deglazing the pan in the process. wait for the alcohol to evaporate then add the tomatoes (mistakes in the amounts of tomatoes will not terribly ruin the recipe, even if caused by extreme and repeated clumsiness), and after a couple of minutes half the stock. Cook covered on the stovetop over a low flame: the liquid should slowly bubble without actually boiling. Cook for about two hours, or until the neat is fork tender, flipping the shanks every thirty minutes and eventually adding stock as needed.
Once the meat is done the sauce should be thickened up nicely. (If you feel it's too runny remove the veal shanks and reduce till the desired consistency is obtained.) Finally make the gremolata: chop the parsley, lemon zest and garlic clove finely together. Add the gremolata to the sauce, cook for a further two minutes and serve.
Serve with risotto alla Milanese, made using this recipe if you wish.