Marisa Miller. Eva Longoria. Sophia Loren. Long legged sensuality. Or perhaps you are thinking of something more hussy like - a woman considered brazen and immoral in her day. Someone that once defined being saucy and impudent simply by fashioning her long legs in lingerie and stillettos like the scandalous Bettie Page?
And ladies, lest we forget you. Lago di Como playboys like DiCaprio and Clooney...or perhaps a more tasteful local representation like Massimo Troisi of Il Postino fame?
I am sorry to say that none of these silverscreen players interest me. You see the weather has finally turned cold and I am now in my element. No sun, nor sand, nor beautiful people. My thoughts are consumed with my favorite cooking technique of braising.
Often I am asked by friends and anyone that can withstand the torture of my talking about my passion for cooking "What do you like to cook?" A simple question I suppose. However, as I have developed my cooking ability over time I am drawn more towards specific cooking techniques and less towards a specific food I like, because, well, I enjoy so many kinds of food. I really don't have a favorite dish. Italian. French. Indian. Latin. All of that is meaningless to me. But I love applying different cooking techniques. And to braise, well it just doesn't get any better in terms of simplicity or outcome.
Long. Slow. Hearty. A well executed braise allows tougher cuts of meat to stand out and shine like a movie star. The technique of low and slow braising excels any time you can take advantage of a cut that includes the bone. Short Ribs. Lamb Shanks. Even Coq au Vin. The flavor dimensions become so pronounced when cooking this way. Shanks of any kind are excellent for braising. The area between the knee and the ankle is full of meat that can be made moist and succulent as the animal's collagen breaks down. There is no need for stillettos to have this kind of fantasy.
The real key in any braise is to thoroughly brown the meat at a high heat in the pot which you will be completing the cooking. Two key elements are accomplished. First, the meat develops a textured crust that will hold up to the long, slow and wet process of a slow stovetop or oven braise. Second, the pot captures an overtly deep layer of flavor that will become the star player to the ultimate dish. Braised dishes usually develop a rich liquid that is served with the meat as part of its final production. A key element readers of my blog know given my very personal thoughts on being saucy.
I re-created this classic Milan style preparation, borrowing shamelessly from Mario Batali's version developed at Po, the restaurant that launched his career. In my version, I add San Marzano tomatoes to his basic tomato sauce recipe and the positively dramatic effect on the outcome of this dish cannot be overstated (or so my agent tells me)...
Also, while I can be a fan of the use of the Italian finishing garnish of gremolata (chopped raw garlic, lemon zest and parsley), I declined to use that here. I feel that the intense flavor of raw garlic is too overpowering. I simply finish with some chopped Italian parsley which provides a clean flavor against the richness of this succulent dish. Scandalous to not stay true to the classic, I know. And I am not referring to being a brazen hussy either.
For the Tomato Sauce
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 white onion, chooped into 1/4 dice
4 garlic cloves thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded
2 28oz cans whole tomatoes crushed by hand, with juices
salt to taste
For the Osso Buco
4 veal shanks (about 1 lb each)
salt and pepper
6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium carrot, chopped into 1/4 inch coins
1 medium carrot, chopped into 1/4 inch coins
1 small white onion, chopped into 1/2 inch dice
2 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 cups basic tomato sauce (see below)
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup chopped Italian Parsley
For the Risotto Milanese
3 1/2 cups chicken stock, heated in a 2 quart saucepan
1/2 cup white onion chopped into 1/4 inch dice
5 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tsp saffron threads
salt to taste
1/2 cup grated parmasean cheese
Make the Tomato Sauce
In a 3 quart sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 minutes. Add the thyme and the carrot and cook 5 minutes more until the carrot is soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt.
Make the Osso Buco*
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Season the shanks with salt and pepper. In a heavy bottom 6-8 quart casserole, heat the olive oil until just smoking. Place the shanks in the pan and brown all over. turning to get every surface browned about 12-15 minutes. Remove the shanks and set aside. Reduce the head to medium, add the carrot, onion, and thyme leaves and cook, stirring regularly, until golden brown and slightly softened, 8-10 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, chicken stock, and wine and bring to a boil. Place shanks back into the pan, making sure they are submerged at least halfway. If shanks are not covered at least halfway, add more stock. Cover the pan. Place in oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until meat is tender and falling off the bone. Remove the casserole from the oven and let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Make the Risotto Milanese
Heat the olive oil in a 4 quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and saute until soft but not brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add the arborio rice and toast for about 3-4 minutes making sure all the grains are covered with oil. Add the white wine and cook until almost dry. Ladle 1 cup of chicken stock over the rice so it is slightly covered. Cook, stirring occassionally, ensure the grains are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. It is not necessary to constantly stir risotto. Add more stock as the liquid cooks off and stir. After 10 minutes of cooking add 1 cup stock to a cup or glass with the saffron threads and then add to the risotto. Continue cooking until the rice is plump but firm about 18-20 minutes total. When done the rice should be slightly wet. Add Parmasean cheese and mix. Add salt, if needed to taste.
Place 1 cup of cooked rice onto the center of a warmed plate or bowl and flatten it out. Place a cooked veal shank over the rice. Ladle some of the sauce over and around the shank and top with the chopped parsley. Serve.
*Adopted from Mario Batali's Simple Italian Cooking.