This is a springtime variant on the classic Osso Buco in Bianco. The Italians refer to any dish without tomatoes in it as ‘in bianco’; presumably the jet black Risotto Nero of Venice is also white by this curious piece of culinary nomenclature. What it does is stress the importance of tomatoes in Italian cooking, in that they are conspicuous by their absence.
Veal is a highly emotive subject. Tender pale-pink Dutch or Lombardy veal makes wonderful roasts or, as scaloppini, provides one of the mainstays of Italian meat cookery. Unfortunately calves are reared in conditions of unspeakable cruelty, so cruel that such rearing is illegal in Great Britain. The alternative is vitellone – the meat of male calves that are reared normally, weaned, fed on grass and then killed. This is much more humane, but dubious gastronomically, as it represents a halfway stage between veal and beef, and misses most of the good points of each. To roast or quickly cook this older darker meat is impractical – it is simply too tough – but it can be braised with considerable success.
The veal generally available around Orvieto is vitellone, and this influences the dishes taught at the school. We go for the slow-cooked dishes such as Lo Stinco or this wonderful osso buco. Incidentally, the creation of crate-fed veal is the by- product of our demand for milk products. Milk farmers necessarily have large quantities of male calves surplus to requirements, and flog them to Holland via Brightlingsea. Cattle that produce good milk yields are generally not very good at producing the beef that our meat industry deems good for us, hence the need to get rid of it as calves. As we in Britain eat very little veal, perhaps the best solution would be to find or develop a breed of cattle which can satisfy both the dairy and beef industry needs.
If you wish to cook this dish, but don’t wish to buy crate-fed veal, seek out an organic or cruelty-free butcher and he will advise you, but remember it will be expensive. Osso buco is cut from the shin, an extremity, which should be relatively cheap, but an overwhelming demand from restaurants has forced the price up.