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.
You will need an ovenproof casserole big enough to hold the meat snugly, preferably in one layer, and a large frying pan. Set the
Heat a little sunflower oil in the frying pan over a medium flame. Season the meat copiously and brown for 5 minutes on one side then turn and repeat. Transfer this meat to the casserole. Tip the prepared soffritto into the frying pan and sauté, slightly browning. Add this to the casserole, then pour the white wine into the frying pan, turn up the heat and boil. Scrape any brown stuck pieces of meat or vegetable off the pan. Tip the wine into the casserole (if using a black iron pan, wash and dry immediately after use as the wine seems to promote rust). Put the casserole over a medium heat and add the bouquet garni and enough water to barely cover the meat. Bring to a simmer, stir and cover, then transfer to the preheated oven. Braise for 2 hours and then check for doneness: if the meat is correctly cooked, it should be beginning to detach itself from the bone but not be completely separated. It may need another half hour.
The dish can be prepared in advance up to this point, indeed benefits from being cooked the day before. However, if you do this, allow to cool completely, remove the meat very carefully with a slotted spoon, wrap in clingfilm, then refrigerate. Transfer the sauce to a clean container and refrigerate separately.
If made the day before, remove the sauce from the fridge and scrape off any fat. Transfer back to the casserole. If making as a continuous process, simply but carefully remove the meat and skim. Add the peas and simmer over a medium heat until the peas are done. This will take a surprisingly long time – up to 40 minutes – and the sauce will reduce and intensify in the process. Check seasoning, return the meat to the casserole, cover and heat through in the oven (the same temperature as before) for 15 minutes or very slowly on a medium to low flame.
While the casserole is reheating make the gremolata. Coarsely chop the parsley. Mince the garlic and add it to the parsley. Grate the lemon zest through the Parmesan hole of a cheese grater and add to the parsley and garlic. Mix thoroughly to avoid serving all the garlic to one guest.
Preheat four large soup plates. Uncover the casserole and skim away any excess fat – carefully, because the osso buco are very fragile. Lift out each piece of meat on to a plate. Ladle over the liquor and vegetables, then sprinkle with the gremolata. Serve with mashed potatoes. Do not tell your guests how delicious the marrow is, then you can sneakily eat it all in the kitchen when they leave it!
© 1996 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.