A Bone to Pick

I don't recall how we acquired Italy, The Beautiful Cookbook, but I do recall the first two recipes I made. Today's Osso Buco, along with a saffron risotto laced with marrow.

I am not a fan of most dishes that arrive at the dinner table with bones.

Fish dishes are the worst offenders, making it extremely difficult to carry on a conversation while surreptitiously trying to remove small bones from your mouth. Fear of choking has nothing to do with it (St. Blaise is always there behind me); it is all about emotional discomfort and embarrassment.

Chicken dishes also offend, although I know that cooking poultry on the bone gives us the best flavor and the moistest meat. There are a few chicken dishes for which I forgive them their bones: coq au vin, and my recent find of chicken in banana curry.

I think the biggest reason I don't like things served on the bone is that the act of cutting the meat resembles a wrestling match and provides the distinct possibility (which I have several times made a reality) that I will send my main course flying.

Murphy's Law dictates that this will always happen when:
   A. There are antique linens on the table;
   B. Red wine will be served and overturned onto said antique linens;
   C. Someone wearing champagne-hued shantung silk is sitting in the trajectory.

One dish for which the bone is a necessity is Osso Buco. Why? Because this is the ONE dish I can think of where the bone gives one something other than trouble. Osso buco means “hole in the bone.” It is this hole that yields marrow. I absolutely love the flavor and texture of that small amount of unctuous, silky, earthy, rich, molten marrow

An aside: I would love to have a set of marrow spoons but, really, they aren't needed to enjoy marrow. It is quite simple to slip it out with the blade of a table knife, and then enjoy it on its own, or slathered on a piece of bread, or mixed into your risotto.

Since making this dish that first time, Mark and I have seen many versions of Osso Buco on menus, all of them somewhat disappointing to us after the simple elegance of this one.

This version has no soffritto, no tomatoes, no dark gravy. It is light in flavor, and has very few ingredients other than the meat; all that is needed is lemon, anchovy (paste or filets), and fresh parsley.

Saffron risotto, the traditional side dish for Osso Buco, can be finished with marrow from bones that have been roasted separately. The addition of the marrow makes for the creamiest risotto you’ll ever experience. My thanks to Lorenza de Medici for her wonderful books filled with ancestral and traditional Italian cuisine and history.

Buon appetito!

~ David

Osso Buco alla Milanese
Minimally adapted from Italy, The Beautiful Cookbook by Lorenza de Medici

4 slices veal shank, about 1-inch thick
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (or 1 anchovy fillet, chopped)
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Dredge veal shanks in flour, and shake off excess. Melt butter in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the shanks on both sides in the butter - about 5 minutes total.

Add the wine and allow to evaporate completely.

Season with salt and pepper, cover and simmer the meat for 1 1/2 hours, adding water a little at a time to keep just a little liquid in the bottom of the pan.

Remove shanks and place them on a warmed plate.

Add the anchovy paste, lemon zest and lemon juice, and mix well. Return shanks to skillet and turn to coat on both sides.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve with saffron risotto.

Makes 4 servings.

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