Ossobuco and Saffron Risotto – destined to be your next wonderful food memory

Osso Bucco

I feel like this recipe isn’t right for the kind of weather we’re having this week, but you never know – in Lubbock it’s sunny and 70 one day and the next day it snows 4″ (true story).  So maybe by the time you read this, it will be frosty, again.

I had ossobuco for the first time six years ago in our tiny apartment, cooked by Matt, and ate it sitting on the floor, pulled up to a coffee table watching t.v.  I shamefully write that, but at the time, I don’t believe we had a dining table.  Hard to remember why else we’d eat such a nice meal on the coffee table, so dangerously close to our dog.  What I do remember is how amazed I was at the flavor of the braised meat and how strange I thought it was that Matt said you were supposed to sprinkle this parsley junk on top.  The “parsley junk” was actually gremolada and it’s actually really perfect to cut the richness of the dish.  Parsley, lemon peel and garlic cut right through the melting texture of the veal shank.  I instantly loved the combination.  We made a lot of food discoveries in that apartment.  Neither of us grew up with a whole lot of adventurous cooking in the house, but when we got married, the adventure began. Neither of us knew what we were doing (I knew the basics and how to navigate the kitchen and Matt can follow a recipe to a fault) but we had an obsession with the then-better Food Network and cookbooks and chef biographies and eating and really, you need little else in order to get on with your own cooking adventure.

Matt and I have a saying about pizza that there’s really no bad pizza.  Cardboard frozen pizza, pizza pockets, bagel bites – we’ll eat any of it.  And I feel the same way about risotto, ossobuco’s best friend.  We’ve made it too thick and we’ve made it too crunchy and we’ve made it too thin and I’ve even been at a restaurant where they FRIED it, and in the confession booth, I would have to admit that I loved it all.  It’s just…comforting.  It’s a rice dish that could very well be as comforting as mac and cheese, and that’s saying something coming from an American.

Since I’d been to the lovely Ghandi Bazaar a few weeks ago and bought some ridiculously cheap saffron, we decided that for this meal, we’d just do it up right (we’d always omitted the expensive ingredient) and use the saffron.  If you need to borrow a pinch and you live close, drop on in.  Or go see the lovely people at the Ghandi Bazaar on 34th and Quaker.  They keep it behind the counter.

Ossobuco – Braised Veal Shanks, Milanese Style*
(serves 6-8)

1 cup onion, chopped fine
2/3 cup carrot, chopped fine
2/3 cup celery, chopped fine
4 tbs butter
1 tsp garlic, you guessed it, chopped fine
2 strips lemon peel (I just took a carrot peeler to it and cut two, long strips off the length of the lemon
1/3 cup vegetable oil
8 – 11/2 inch thick slices of veal shank, tied tightly with string around the middle (you may need to ask the butcher to cut these, but they nearly always have them in the back)
Flour, spread on a plate
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup beef broth
1 1/2 cups canned plum tomatoes, chopped with juice
1/2 tsp fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried
2 bay leaves
2 or 3 sprigs of parsley
Black pepper and salt

1 recipe Gremolada (follows)
1 recipe Milanese style saffron risotto (follows)

Preheat the oven to 350.
In a heavy bottomed dutch oven or stock pot, heat to medium and throw in the onion, carrot, celery and butter and cook for 6 to 7 minutes.  Add the chopped garlic and lemon peel and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until the vegetables soften and wilt.  Remove from heat.
Put the vegetable oil in a separate skillet and turn on the heat to meium high.  Turn the veal shanks in the flour, coating them all over and shaking off the excess.  Don’t do this ahead of time or they will get soggy.  When the oil is shimmering hot, add the shanks in two batches of four (they should cover the bottom of the pan but not be crowded) and brown evenly on all sides.  Remove them from the skillet and place them side by side over the chopped vegetables in the dutch oven.
Tip the skillet and spoon away all but a little bit of the oil.  Add the wine, reduce it by simmering it over medium heat while scraping loose with a wooden spooon the residues that get stuck to the bottom and sides.  pour the skillet juices over the veal in the pot.
Pout the broth in the skillet, bring to a simmer, and add it to the pot.  Also add the chopped tomatoes with their juices, the thyme, bay leaves, parsley, pepper and salt.  The broth should have come up two-thirds of the way up the sides of the shanks.  If it does not, add a little more.
Bring the liquids in the pot to a simmer, cover the pot tightly, and place it in the lower third of a preheated oven.  Cook for about 2 hours or until the meat feels very tender when prodded with a fork and a dense sauce has formed.  Don’t be in a rush – more cooking is better than not enough.
When the ossobuco is done, transfer it to a warm platter, removing the trussing strings, pour the sauces in the pot over them and serve at once on top of a bed of risotto and garnished (on the side) with gremolada.

Gremolada*

1 tsp grated lemon peel (buy a Microplane)
1/4 tsp minced garlic (buy a Microplane)
1 tbs chopped parsley

Mix ’em all up.

Saffron Risotto

Saffron Risotto, Milanese Style*
(serves 6)

1 cup canned beef broth, diluted with 4 cups water
2 tbs diced pancetta
3 tbs butter
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 tbs onion, chopped fine
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 tsp saffron threads dissolved in one cup of broth
Black pepper
1/3 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated fresh
Salt, if needed

Bring the broth to a slow, steady simmer on a burner near where you’ll be cooking the risotto.
Put the diced pancetta, one tbs butter and vegetable oil, and the chopped onion in a broad sturdy pot (we use this one – our go-to risotto pan) and turn on the heat to medium high.  Cook and stir the onion until it becomes translucent, then add the rice.  Stir quickly and thoroughly until the grains are coated well.
Add 1/2 cup of simmering broth, and cook, stirring, until all the liquid has mostly evaporated before adding another ladle.  Keep doing this over and over and over and over, stirring all the while.
When the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, add half the dissolved saffron liquid.  Continue to stir, and when there is no more liquid in the pot, add remaining saffron liquid.
Finish cooking the rice, tasting for doneness.  The rice shouldn’t be crunchy any more, but shouldn’t be mushy, either.  Go for that nice al dente, much like pasta.
Off the heat, add a few grindings of pepper, the remaining butter, all the Parmesan and stir thoroughly until the cheese melts and clings to the rice.  Taste and correct for salt.  Serve with ossobuco!

*all recipes come from the wonderful book, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  Go buy it!

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