ossobucco with gremolata

i remember my dad sucking marrow out of bones after sunday roasts. i used to think it was gross.

we used to eat a lot of veal at home - and by that i just mean young cows rather than the milk-fed and crated calves that made veal so unpopular in the UK. big, bone-in pieces were roasted with potatoes and eaten with creamed spinach and dressed lettuce leaves. escalopes were pounded with a heavy-duty meat tenderiser, then breaded and fried. thin chops were wrapped around bacon, onion and carrot pieces, secured with a toothpick and cooked in a meaty gravy till tender. the year that mum went to the US for work for almost a month, this last dish became dad's mid-week speciality. it was a revelation to suddenly realise he could make food other than salty cheese omelettes or pre-school sandwiches with cigarette-paper thin home-cured pancetta. we thought we'd spend a month being fed polenta (with yogurt and cheese, usually reserved for those rare days when there was nothing else to eat) and his special home made cheese and spinach pies. instead, dad took to his home duties so well that i am not sure we noticed mum was away when it came to cooking.

it's only now i realise what a treat bone marrow is. i have been meaning to cook something with it for a while - more precisely since i had a hanger steak accompanied by a hollowed-out piece of bone stuffed with marrow mixed with parsley and flashed under the grill at mark hix's restaurant. 

by accident, my recent search for gremolata recipes led me to ossobucco, a classic italian dish with which it is traditionally served (and also with risotto with saffron, which i think would induce a post-prandial coma because the whole thing would be so rich). so i went to the posh butcher in the city, just behind st mary le bow church on cheapside, and got six thick pieces of veal shin.

the finished dish is not for the faint-hearted. it kind of smacks you in the head from the first mouthful, right between the eyes. it has the smell and the taste of proper meat, somehow, as far removed from the cellophane-wrapped chicken breast as you can imagine. the meat itself was tender, coming away from the bone, and the marrow could be scooped out with a point of a knife and smeared on the spinach and broccoli we had on the side.

if you're scared of fat, look the other way - there's nothing to see here. if you're not, open a bottle of red wine and settle down for some serious eating.

for six

6 veal shanks
3 celery sticks, chopped
6 carrots, chopped into large-ish chunks
2 onions, peeled and finely sliced
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
a bunch of parsley
4 bay leaves
1 tin of tomatoes
750ml white wines
salt and pepper
olive oil

tie kitchen string around the shanks if you can, as this will stop them from disintegrating completely while cooking. season on both sides.

heat the oil in a large, heavy based pan and brown the shanks on both sides lightly. remove from the pan and set aside.

pour away any fat, then add more oil and gently fry all the vegetables, the garlic and the herbs for about 15 minutes. add the tomatoes and the white wine, and simmer on slightly higher heat for another ten minutes.

return the veal to the pan, cover, and cook on fairly low heat for about an hour and a half. check the seasoning at the end. if your sauce is too runny, take the lid off and cook it for a bit longer but make sure you don’t dry out the meat.

serve sprinkled with gremolata (http://n1kitchen.blogspot.com/2009/05/gremolata.html)


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