Osso bucco. Those four syllables are synonymous with “the brightest delights of heaven concentrated on the tongue in a symphony of rich savory flavorful meat and vegetable loveliness” … or something like that. And when the veal is from the inestimable Cato Corner Farm, in Colchester, CT — a place more known for its cheese than its equally fine pork, veal, and beef selection (thanks to H & W for taking us there after last weekend’s epic pig roast!), and the carrots were grown by my husbandman Farmer Clayton in Concord, MA, then the waxing poetic effect really kicks in with a vengeance. I’m not sure why veal shanks braised in tomatoes and wine always commands such a massive price on restaurant menus, especially when superlative meat is available for $7.99/lb, like it was at the farmstand — which I why I make the dish at home whenever I can. The enjoyment to be gleaned from this dish, however, is worth any price: a homestyle, chunky tomato sauce full of fresh farm flavors, draped over tender morsels of sweet meat falling off round smooth bones shot through with rich, delicious marrow. Traditionally, the meal is served with a saffron-scented risotto and topped with a snappy garlic/parsley gremolata, but I wanted to capture more of a rustic feel, so I stewed the sauce with oregano and sage and served the dish with some beautiful gnarled roasted carrots. (Clayton has been collecting the ugliest carrots he could find, digging them up all week.) Hearty, honest, silken, savory and warm; we might not live on the farm, but we sure know how to bring, and use, the best of the farm home with us to the city for dinner night after night.
Gnarly Roasted Carrot Studded Osso Bucco
4 cross cut veal shanks (mine equal about 1 3/4 lbs)
several celery stalks
8-10 carrots — the more gnarled, twisted, and mutant, the better!
1 small red onion
1 small white onion
1 head garlic
1 cup red wine
1 qt beef stock
1 large can crushed tomatoes
2-3 sprigs fresh oregano
1 handful fresh sage leaves
1 small loaf french bread
grated parmesan cheese
black pepper, sea salt
This dish starts like many other braised meat recipes: I rinse and dry the yummies, dredge them with flour, salt, and pepper. I roughly chop my celery, onion, and a couple of my least interesting carrots (read: anything straight enough to have purchased at the supermarket ), then separate, crack, and peel all my cloves of garlic. A swirl of EVOO goes over medium-high heat in my largest, deep-sided pan.
Searing the meat does several things: it locks in juices and flavor, it caramelizes cut sides of muscle, jump starting the cooking process, and it adds a crusty fond to the pan, which will contribute deliciousness (and thickeningness) to the sauce.
Using tongs, I flip them shanks when the bottom side has developed a healthy brown sear. The house already smells good. When both sides are properly encrusted, I remove them from the pan and set ‘em aside for a few moments. I return the pan to the heat and …
… dump in my chopped veggies. They get stirred around over the heat until they just start to soften. The smell in the kitchen just intensified to fantastic.
Here’s where I add the wine. This is just a nice table red; Clayton enjoyed drinking the rest of the bottle with his dinner later.
I splash about a cup into the pan and stir well, scraping up all the nice brown bits of meaty meat clinging to the hot surface.
I coulda shoulda woulda used fresh tomatoes today, but I done forgot to ask Clayton to pick some. It would have added about an hour to my cook-time, too – and given the hour plus I needed to braise the veal, that would have meant a very late dinner. So, a can it is; this brand is organic and quite tasty.
We don’t have to get our herbs from the farm, since our little roof-deck garden is still producing sturdy rich oregano and robust sage leaves. I don’t bother removing these from their stems…
… I just throw them, stems and all, along with my quart of beef stock, into the pan. After a good stir, encouraging the wine, tomatoes, and stock to get to know each other and submerging my herbs in their luscious liquid, I reduce the heat to simmer, cover, and walk away for an hour — during which time the fantastic aromas emanating from the stove shoot heavenward, ascending all the way to “maddening”.
Now that’s what I call a chorus line. Look at all them legs! Clayton’s collection of heirloom ugly carrots are a delightful study in what vegetables really look like. Not only are they more visually stimulating than the typical, perfectly conical, dully orange Bug Bunny carrots, but they taste richer, more carrot-y, too. I scrub them very well, using a vegetable brush, and paying close attention to the little bits of stem left. No – I don’t peel them. It’s rusticity I want; my carrots don’t need denuding.
These lovelies get laid Walton-family style in a sweet little package of aluminum foil, draped with EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, and a sprigs’ worth of oregano leaves. I wrap the package up tightly, being careful not to pierce the foil, then I put this on a baking sheet and throw it into a 350° oven. They take about 35-40 minutes; just enough time for me to finish off the rest of the meal.
It’s been an hour, and my veal is so tender it has already begun to fall off the bone. I remove the lid so that the liquid can reduce…
… and so I can melt some butter. I don’t have a microwave, but I do have stainless steel bowls I can float over already boiling stuff to jerry-rig a quick double-boiler. What? It’s efficient! I add about a tablespoon of fresh minced garlic, and mix well.
This gets spread across my split french loaf. Add some healthy sprinklings of grated parmesan cheese, chuck in the oven for 10 minutes, and I gots me some toasty cheesy garlic bread for sopping.
Didn’t I mention the meat was falling off the bone? Or perhaps it’s more apt to say that the bones are falling out of the meat. Either way, it’s ready.
I remove the meat from the sauce to a warmed waiting serving platter. Using a deep spoon, I transfer the sauce from the pan to a large deep bowl. Although I could serve it chunky like this, I like a smooth sauce for my Michael Shanks..
I’ve used a variation of this trick to pound peppercorns in my mortar and pestle without scattering them all over the kitchen, and it works for hand-blending, too. This bowl is too big for a single-width of cling-wrap, so I tightly affix two overlapping sheets to the bowl’s edges, sliding my hand-blender through the open pocket. Then I happily whirr away, enjoying the sensation of *not* flicking my eyes, face, clothes, and kitchen walls with hot tomato sauce.
See? All these spatters are *not* all over me. And I have a perfectly pureed garden tomato sauce!
The last step is to plate my carrots, which are absolutely tender and slightly caramelized when I unwrap them from their foil sleeping bag.
An aromatic hour and a half later, and I have a full platter of richly stewed tender veal shanks with roasted sweet carrots. The flavors are hearty and wholesome, warming to the core, fulfilling and comfortable. Clayton summed up my cooking just right the other day; he called it “urban comfort food” – and I couldn’t agree more with him. My place in the city serves the farm on a plate, and this married-to-a-gentleman-farmer-redneck girl loves it.