The first time I went overseas with Harvey was to Sydney, in 1981. I'd never been to Australia, and was a bit overwhelmed by the food. Harvey wanted to go to an Italian restaurant he'd been to before. I can't remember its name, but it seemed very authentic - too much so for me. It was large and noisy and had a vast, multipage Italian menu that completely baffled me, partly because I could barely read its curly brown type in the dim light.
Harvey knew exactly what he wanted - mussels, followed by saltimbocca. I wasn't impressed by the idea of mussels, because I thought they'd be like the giant New Zealand ones, and I wasn't sure what saltimbocca was. So I chose two things I'd often heard of, but never had - minestrone and osso buco.
I didn't enjoy my foolish combination of two very hearty, meaty dishes, and the bones in the osso buco were embarrassingly difficult to deal with. Meanwhile Harvey tied on a huge white bib and feasted on a big bowl of tiny black mussels cooked in white wine, completely different from the ones I'd had back home, followed by a delicate, delicious-looking combination of veal, ham and sage that lived up to its lovely name of jump-in-the-mouth.
I've made minestrone many times since, but never osso buco. Then before Christmas I found a neat package of the right cut of veal in Moore Wilson (remarkably cheap at $6.95), and bought it to freeze and make later for Harvey - I knew he'd enjoy it, and the Claudia Roden recipe (the modern version, with tomatoes - the older one didn't use them, it was more like a veal blanquette) looked remarkably simple.
Of course, I never got the chance to make it for him. But this week, with visitors due, I decided it was time to have a go.
(from The Food of Italy, Claudia Roden)
4 thick slices of shin of veal, each cut with a piece of marrow bone in the middle
flour for dusting
50g butter, or less (I did use this much, but removed some later, it's a lot)
125 ml dry white wine
225g tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or a good quality can of crushed tomatoes)
meat stock or water
salt and pepper
For the gremolata:
4 tbsp finely chopped Italian flat-leaved parsley
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1 small clove garlic, crushed
1 large anchovy, finely chopped
- Coat pieces of meat with flour and brown in butter on both sides. Add tomatoes and stock or water to cover, then season.
- Cook very gently with lid on for 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn't stick, until meat is so tender it comes away from the bone. (I used the slow cooker for this stage.) Add stock or water to keep meat covered at first, but sauce should be thick by the end.
- Make gremolata: mix parsley, lemon zest, garlic and anchovy, place a little on each piece of meat and cook a few minutes longer.
- Serve with risotto alla milanese or plain white rice.
The flavour and texture is beautifully smooth and rich without being too heavy, and the sharp gremolata offsets it perfectly. Buon appetito.