It seems like another lifetime ago when I was only 22 years old and was meeting my mother’s sisters and brothers in Italy for the first time. Each day my aunts and uncles invited me to lunch or dinner and feted me with their finest dishes. This is what my Aunt Ave prepared for me and it’s been one of my favorite recipes since that day decades ago when I first ate it in her home. Aunt Ave never cooks anymore since she’s nearly 95 years old and lives in a nursing home. But every time I make this dish, I think of her and the spunky lady who lovingly prepared this meal for her American niece.
Many recipes for osso buco call for tomatoes, but I prefer a browner-type sauce like the one my aunt made. I do add a bit of tomato paste, but not enough to turn it into a red sauce, just enough to add some richness. Aunt Ave also included porcini mushrooms, which is not typically in an osso buco recipe, but I think they’re a terrific addition. Many people strain the vegetables and serve it with a smooth sauce, but I like the rustic bits of carrots and mushrooms floating on the plate.
The dish is traditionally served over risotto alla Milanese. While it’s great with risotto, it’s also delicious with polenta or mashed potatoes. I served it with polenta made in a slow cooker, believe it or not. Just pour everything into the pot, place the lid on top and press the button. Two or three hours later, you come back to creamy, soft polenta. I found the recipe in Michele Scicolone’s new cookbook, “The Italian Slow Cooker,” which I highly recommend. I’m looking forward to trying some of the other recipes in the book too.
Gremolata, (sometimes spelled gremolada) a mixture of parsley, garlic and lemon peel, is the classic accompaniment to osso buco. Some people (including my husband) find it unnecessary to introduce a garlicky-citrus component to a dish that’s already loaded with flavor. If gremolata makes your boat float, great. If not, leave it out. It’s delicious either way.
Start out with veal shanks. In case you weren’t aware, osso means bone in Italian, and buco means hole. It should be obvious why this dish is called osso buco. Normally my recipes are for smaller portions, but the amount in the recipe below is for 12 pieces since I made it for a recent dinner party. You can reduce the amount of ingredients according to your needs. It’s not like baking a cake where you have to be exact. If you add a little more or less of one or another ingredient, you’ll still get a delicious result.
Some people braise the meat in the oven. I usually cook mine on top of the stove, but either method works fine as long as you remember to brown the meat first on the stove top with a little dusting of flour.
for 12 veal shanks (about 7.5 pounds)
Printable Recipe Here
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 c. chopped carrots
8 cloves garlic
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms (@40 grams)
flour, salt and pepper to dredge meat
more olive oil to saute meat, as required
1 1/2 c. white wine
liquid from the porcini mushrooms
1 cup beef broth, and more if needed
1 T. tomato paste
4 bay leaves
1 sprig of rosemary
a few sprigs of thyme
rind from one lemon, grated finely
Soak the porcini mushrooms in room temperature water for at least 15 minutes.
Saute the onions, celery and carrots in the olive oil until limp. Add the garlic and saute until softened, then remove the vegetables and set aside. Pour more olive oil into the pan and dredge the meat with flour and season with salt and pepper. Brown the meat in the skillet on both sides, using more olive oil as needed. Then add the wine and the sauteed vegetables that have been set aside. Strain the liquid from the porcini mushrooms to remove any bits of sediment, and add it to the pan, along with the broth, the tomato paste, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme and lemon peel. With the lid on the pan slightly ajar, cook the meat at a simmer for about two hours or until the meat is fork tender and liquid has thickened a bit. If the liquid starts to evaporate too much, add more broth as needed.
Optional, serve with a spoonful of gremolata.
The amounts are all very loose and you can add more garlic or parsley or lemon peel, depending on your taste.
handful of parsley (about 1/2 cup)
3 garlic cloves, smashed with a broad knife
rind from 1 lemon
Place the parsley, garlic and lemon rind on a cutting board. Using a chef’s knife, chop everything together until it becomes a fine mince. Sprinkle a little over the osso buco, if desired.