When I first moved to Europe, it was to the French-speaking part of Switzerland where obviously French cuisine (with the obligatory Swiss fondue) reigned. A staple of many tables in that region is os a moelle, bone marrow. My son, even though he tried to be a vegetarian for some time, grew up eating roasted veal bone marrow on toast with a little sea salt added. This was considered a healthy snack for children and who was I to argue with local tradition?
Having grown up in a cold northern climate myself, I was and still am attracted to the south and wanted to learn more about the cuisine of Italy, which was just a few hours away from my Geneva home. That’s where I discovered how to make a northern Italian specialty, Ossobuco, which is a signature dish of Milan consisting of braised veal shin bones where, with time, the meat becomes very tender but the marrow is one of the most important parts (in old school Milanese homes, a special small spoon is on the table just to eat the marrow!).
Served with the quintessential Risotto alla Milanese, or saffron rice, the bone marrow stew must be rich yet delicate, as only a dish that has been slowly and lovingly cooked on a low heat will be. Remember that this is a northern Italian recipe so some butter should be used but without it the recipe is still delicious.
Below is my version of Ossobuco, which was passed on to me by my Milanese friends and adopted family. It is a comforting and hearty meal especially during the autumn and winter months. Some recipes call for tomato sauce but I make mine ‘in bianco’ or white style, which lets the meat and marrow shine. To find this cut of meat outside of Italy you’ll need a really good butcher or an Italian market. Click for the accompanying risotto alla Milanese recipe.
Ossobuco Bone Marrow Stew
For 6 people
8 veal or beef shin bones with meat on
3 tbs butter and a good splash of olive oil
Flour for dredging
Homemade beef broth
White wine (good and dry, like an Arneis from Piedmont)
Salt and pepper to taste
Zest of one lemon
Handful of Italian flat-leaf parsley
1 clove garlic
1-2 anchovy fillets (preserved in oil)
Dredge meat in flour then brown on medium high heat in butter and/or good quality olive oil
Add just enough white wine to generously cover the meat and cover with a lid; simmer over low heat for at least 3 hours, adding broth as needed to keep moist but not too liquid
When the meat is tender, falling off the bone, grate the rind of one lemon and put it in a mortar and pestle with chopped parsley, anchovies and garlic*. Mash until fine (or pulse with a machine) then add to the meat while still warm and serve immediately.
*This tasty, lemony, herb topping is called gremolata and while some prefer orange zest I like the pungency of lemons, especially since they come from the tree on my balcony!
In all its juicy, meatiness Ossobuco should be served with the risotto described above, which I’ll write about in the next post.
Elizabeth Janus is a passionate traveller, and makes it a point to peruse the farmer’s markets in every place she visits to get an immediate pulse of the city. For the last decade, she has been guiding discerning clients on food adventures at farmer’s markets, speciality shops and into her home for unique Italian meals to experience Italy as an Italian..