Osso Buco with Risotto ala Milanese

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us on this flight to Milan. The captain has turned off the seatbelt sign, and you are now free to move about the cabin.  In a few moments, the flight attendants will be passing through with drinks as well as a heavy, holiday meal of osso buco and risotto, two classic dishes from Milan.

During the summer of 2003, the husband and I spent almost two months in Germany and Italy. The husband had gotten a job at a lab in Leipzig during the hottest summer on record in Europe. We sweltered and sweat and wilted our way through Belluno, Venice, Rome, Verona, Prague, Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, and Dresden. After eight weeks, we spent our last day in Europe in Milan. We had arrived from Germany in a predictably prompt and air-conditioned train, found our predictably unair-conditioned hotel chosen merely because of its proximity to the Central Station, and just as predictably determined that we must go to a late dinner, in part to escape the scorching oppression of the hotel. Wandering down Via Vittor Pisani, we found a sidewalk table well served by an attentive Napoli cameriere who led me by my hand to the buffet table. He grabbed my plate, spoke something to me with a flourishing gesture, and then piled my plate high with food; thusly, I ate sardines to my heart's satisfaction. I slurped seafood pasta with mussels, clams, whole huge prawns, octopi, squid. I gulped acqua frizzante and sipped wine. At around 11 p.m., when the husband and I finally waddled back to our hotel, we determined that we had enjoyed one of our best meals in all of our time abroad and we already had begun to miss Europe. The next morning, when we left the hotel room, it was already 90 degrees outside, and while we were happy to leave behind the heat for the cool of the airport, we were sad to leave behind lovely Milan and its wonderful food.

Most certainly we did not eat long-braised veal shanks that summer--it was far too hot for that--but when I saw that Osso Buco was on page 215 of this cookbook, I knew that I had to serve it near the holidays in a great celebration of that wonderful dinner in Milan and I had to serve it with a Milanese favorite: saffron risotto.

Osso Buco means bone with a hole or hollow bone in Italian, and the cut comes from the middle part of the hind thigh of a (generally male) calf. (Why male? Well, ordinarily the females get to grow up to become dairy cows. The boys? Not so much.)  While it is a tough cut of meat if you were to, say, toss it on a grill, the braising of it for two hours renders the muscle as soft as "the leg of an angel/ who has lived a purely airborne existance" (or so says our former poet laureate in poetic rapture). Further, it's a snap to make for a dinner party, as it can be made the night before and then just reheated the next day. In fact, it tastes even better the next day (or the day after that, if you think ahead enough to make too much and thus have leftovers. Be smart. Make too much.).

The husband and I had this as part of our New Year's Eve dinner, and it felt rich and celebratory and fine.  (We once even had it for family dinner in 2011, composed by my mother-in-law, and it was quite tasty.)  While the meat is succulent and almost unctuous, the best part of the whole dish, my dear friends, is the marrow found deep in those bones with holes. The prime philosophical question one must ponder when facing a plate of osso buco is as follows: do you start with the marrow as a mouthwatering jolt out of the starting gate, or do you save it for the end to give a slow satisfactory final bite to an astonishingly rich meal? I cannot answer this question for you, as it is a truly personal one, but I will suggest the answer says a lot about you. Are you the type who wants to be woken from whatever slumber you have been existing in pre-osso buco? Or do you want to linger on contentment, savoring it for one last mouthful, knowing that your time is coming to an end? (I save it for the end...)

The saffron risotto in the book seemed an inadequate pairing, as this cookbook served it with peas, which others suggest is a fine way to serve it.  But I wanted it senza peas.  Consequently, I turned to that grande dame (or should I say gran signora) of Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan to guide me through the Risotto ala Milanese. Appropriately enough, I added prosciutto (which I chose over pancetta just so I could wrap the leftovers around melon for breakfast the next day--hey, I am always thinking a step ahead)--yes, I chose bacon over peas. Come on.

With that, I believe that the captain has been cleared for landing. As we begin our final descent into the recipe itself, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright and locked position. Ensure your seat belt is securely fastened and all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins. On behalf of Morsels and Sauces, I'd like to thank you for joining us today, and we look forward to seeing you on board again in the near future for Meyer Lemon Eclairs and Rosemary Olive Oil Cake.

Osso Buco with Risotto ala Milanese
Osso Buco adapted from page 215 of  William Sonoma's The Essentials of Slow Cooking
Risotto adapted from  Marcela Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking

4 Servings

For the Osso Buco
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, minced

4 veal shanks (2 1/2 to 3 lbs total weight, each about 2 inches thick)
salt and pepper
Flour, spread on a plate

1 cup dry white wine, such as pinot grigio
1 carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 rib celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 cups (12 fluid ounces) canned imported plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped with their juice
1 cup beef broth
2 bay leaves
2 tsp fresh oregano
2 tsp fresh thyme

For the Gremolata
3 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
Grated zest of 1 lemon

For the Risotto ala Milanese
3 1/2 to 4 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 Tbsp diced pancetta or prosciutto
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp crushed saffron threads
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

For the Osso Buco
1.  In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbsp olive oil.  Add the onion and garlic to the pan and saute over medium high heat until they start to turn tender, about 3 minutes. Add the carrot and celery and cook for another 5-7 minutes, just to soften the vegetables.  Set aside on a plate.

2.  If the veal shanks do not have skin encircling them, truss them (tie them) with cooking twine. Season the veal shanks all over with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Turn the veal shanks in the flour, coating them all over and shaking off the excess flour.

3.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

4.  In the same large frying pan over medium-high heat, add another Tbsp of the olive oil. Add the veal shanks and cook until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

5. Pour in the wine and deglaze the pan, stirring and scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Return the onion, garlic, carrot, and celery mixture to the pan. Add the tomatoes, broth, bay leaves, oregano, and thyme, and bring to a boil.

6.  Transfer the veal to a large Dutch oven. Pour in the broth/vegetable mixture.  The broth should come up about 2/3 of the way of the veal (if not, just add a little more broth).

7.  Cover and cook until the veal is very tender, about 2 hours.  If while the shanks are cooking, the liquid in the pot becomes insufficient, add 2 Tbsp of water at a time.

For the Gremolata
8.  Shortly before the veal is done, make the gremolata:  In a small bowl, stir together the parsley, garlic, and lemon zest.

For the Risotto ala Milanese:
9. In a sauce pan over medium heat, bring the broth to a simmer.

10.  In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 Tbsp of the butter. Add the prosciutto or pancetta and the onion and saute until softened, 4-5 minutes. Add the rice and stir until all of the grains are coated with the butter and turn translucent at the edges, about 1 minute.

11.  Add the 1 cup of wine to the rice, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring almost constantly until the liquid is absorbed.

12.  Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth/wine mixture, stirring almost constantly until the liquid is absorbed, 3-5 minutes. Continue adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, always waiting until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid before adding more and stirring almost constantly. The risotto is done when the rice is tender and very creamy, but still slightly firm to the bite, about 20 minutes after the first addition of the broth mixture.

13.  Off heat, add black pepper, the remaining butter, and all of the grated Parmesan cheese. Stir thoroughly until the cheese melts. Taste and correct for salt.

To Serve:
14.  Divide the Risotto ala Milanese onto warmed plates.  Arrange the shanks atop the risotto. Spoon the cooking juices and vegetables over the veal. Garnish with gremolata, and serve at once. 


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