I can still remember the first time I ate my own home-cooked meal of the famous Italian dish Osso Buco, literal meaning ‘hollow bone’. It was 1983 and I had recently bought a Crock Pot, a type of slow cooker that was fashionable at the time. I don’t recall much about the recipe but my palate will never forget the flavours, including my first experience of fresh gremolata, added to the plate immediately prior to eating.
Over the next two decades, I made Osso Buco a couple of times each year. The pieces of shinbone would usually be baby beef, which was more widely available than veal in WA, especially during the years I spent in Albany on the south coast. In Melbourne, however, the supply of veal shanks is plentiful and inexpensive and that is what Maggie and I always use.
Soon after Maggie and I made a kitchen together in 2004, we came across a recipe in which whole pieces of preserved lemon were cooked with the meat and vegetables. We really liked the result and decided that we would dispense with the gremolata; not that we would begrudge anyone who opted for that last-minute flavour kick.
Ingredients (for 4-5 middle-aged adults)
1½-2kg sections of veal shank
1 brown onion, finely chopped
1 leek, halved lengthways and finely sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
1-2 quarters of preserved lemon, including flesh, chopped
200-250ml dry white wine
120-150ml light stock (veal, chicken or vegetable)
300-400g tinned tomatoes, coarsely chopped, or 250-300ml passata
3 sprigs thyme
1-2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh parsley
extra stock, if needed
- Heat oven to 160C
- Add a little oil to a roasting pan and brown the veal shanks in the oven for 20 minutes, turning once or twice. Remove and transfer to a warm dish. Reduce oven temp to 150C.
- Melt butter in a large, heavy-based, ovenproof pan and sauté the onion, leek, garlic, carrot and celery for 8 minutes. Add preserved lemon and cook for a further 2 minutes.
- Add wine, stock and tomato/passata to pan, stir well and bring to a simmer.
- Push the veal pieces into the sauce and tuck in thyme, bay leaves and parsley (or combine them in some muslin, as Maggie does). There should be enough liquid to come about two-thirds of the way up the pieces of veal. If necessary, add more stock.
- Bring liquids back to a simmer, cover with lid and cook for up to 2 hours, until veal is tender and sauce is well integrated, almost creamy. Turn the pieces of veal once or twice.
- Serve with a green vegetable and either mashed potato, pasta or rice.