The pulses and legumes like dried beans and chickpeas so ubiquitous in the dishes of the Middle East make dependable summer fallbacks that can be set in motion the night before with a soak. But these can also be quite heavy to digest. Not that this is a drawback - in that part of the world there is great respect for the afternoon siesta if you’re serving them at lunch. For an evening meal, a slow-cooked meat might serve your digestion better.
Certain cuts are particularly handy at this time of year. American men, apron-clad, know the value of brisket, slapping it with secret sauces standing at the barbecue. The French know this with the pot-au-feu. The Italians know this with osso buco.
Osso buco is a slow-cooked Lombard speciality, usually served with risotto alla Milanese. The rice comes from the Piedmont, the area west of Lombardy, but the dish will shine if you only serve a salad and perhaps a bowl of potato puree.
The cut comes from across the shank, which gives you the chance to eat the bone marrow, an opportunity I encourage you not to avoid. Slather it over a slice of toasted tourte and sprinkle it with gremolata. This is the fine minching together of garlic, parsley and lemon zest that an osso buco is served with. It may make the main course of my last meal on earth, if I’m given any choice in the matter. I certainly won’t need my teeth for it - it’s so soft.
Veal rightly fell out of favour when we learned what inhumane tortures calves were subjected to. In order to achieve flesh as white as pork, they were confined to crates, often unable to stand.
But responsible farmers raising calves without cruelty produce a meat called ‘rosy’ veal.
It’s less likely that you’ll find this kind of veal at a supermarket. Instead, find a living, breathing butcher with whom you can discuss how theirs has been raised - not a question you can ask a cellophane package. Farmers’ markets are a reliable source.
In South-West France, farmers check on the health of the calf by looking first in their eyes, then in the intimate area exposed by raising their tails and spreading their buttock cheeks. Any red veins revealed at either end are an indication the calf has not been raised sous la mère (milk-fed), or possibly of sickness.
Ossobuco goes in the oven for 1½ hours, a bonus when you want to be out of the kitchen and with your friends.
Preheat the oven to 175C/350F
- Flour for dredging the meat, seasoned with pepper only (salt will dry the meat out)
- 4 cuts of veal shin, 4.5cm thick
- 60ml cup olive oil
- 55g butter
- 2 medium onions, peeled and finely diced
- 2 stalks of celery, finely diced
- 2 small carrots, washed and finely diced
- 145ml white wine
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 145ml stock
- 400g fresh tomatoes, blanched, skinned and chopped, or 1 400g can peeled tomatoes
- 1 large sprig fresh thyme
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Bunch of flat leaf parsley, stalks discarded
- 1 lemon, scrubbed
- 1 large clove garlic, peeled
Dredge the meat in the flour and shake off the excess. Brown the pieces in 3 tablespoons of oil. Set them in a pan you can put in the oven, close together to prevent the marrow from falling out.
Wipe out the frying pan. Add the remaining oil and the butter to gently saute the mirepoix of onions, celery and carrots till soft, about 15 minutes. Pour in the wine, scraping up the vegetable caramel.
Raise the heat and reduce till almost gone then stir in the tomato paste. Dilute with the stock, season, add the tomatoes and bring to the boil. Pour over the veal, add the thyme and cover tightly. Place in the oven to braise for 1 ½ hours.
Check during cooking the liquid hasn’t evaporated. Serve from the pan with the gremolata, made by finely chopping the parsley leaves, garlic and the zest of the lemon together, sprinkled over the top. Eat with risotto Milanese, polenta or pureed potatoes.
This column written by Julia Watson originally appeared in the August 2021 edition of The Bugle.