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Sunday, 26 February 2012

Osso Buco with Sun Dried Tomato and Carmelized Onion Risotto

This Saturday I was feeling a bit like the Toronto Maple Leafs ... in desperate need of a win.  After a series of unabashed kitchen failures I decided to turn to a meal creation process that usually pays off for me: pick an element that I know well and base everything else on that.  It's a bit like playing improv jazz (something I did quite a bit when I was younger); you pick a key, a riff and then expand on that theme so that everything you play sounds like a constructed song, even though you're making it up as you go along.  In this case, I chose the key of Italian and the riff was sun dried tomato.

We started with sun dried tomato risotto because it's FANTASTIC and I've been making risotto for over 20 years so I knew I could make that work.  Osso buco seemed like an ideal pairing because the creamy marrow and delicate meat would echo the creamy risotto.  It also had the benefit of being braised for only slightly over an hour so we could make the risotto while it cooked. The citrus punch from the gremolata topping goes well with the sun dried tomatoes in the risotto.

Most osso buco recipes call for braising in white or red wine, aromatic veggies and whole or diced tomatoes.  I decided to substitute sun dried tomatoes for the fresh or canned ones as I wanted to match the flavour from the risotto.  We then strained and reduced the sauce which allowed us to concentrate the sun dried tomato flavor even more and meant that we wouldn't drown the risotto in a lot of liquid.  The resulting dish isn't as colourful as the traditional version but I think it tastes more intense.

Osso buco:
4 osso buco (slices of veal shank)
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 onion, chopped
4 sun dried tomatoes, whole
3 cups white wine
2 cups veal or beef stock
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp rosemary

Zest of one lemon
2 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 tbsp parsley, diced
1 tsp olive oil

3 onions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 cups arborio rice (accept no substitutes)
1 cup sun dried tomatoes, diced
2 cups stock + 2 cups water
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350F.
I like to start caramelizing the onions first because I cook them in the oven, which takes longer but saves labour (you can do them on the stove in a frying pan if you prefer). In a large pot, toss the onions in oil. Cover and place in the oven for about 30-45 minutes. If you're out of time and there is still liquid in the pot or if they are not fully caramelized, remove from oven and transfer to the stove on medium heat to finish. Remove the lid and let cook until any remaining liquid has cooked off and the onions are the colour of caramel. While the onions are in the oven, make the gremolata so that it can spend some time ... gremolating.  Simply combine the ingredients in a small bowl or ramekin, cover and refrigerate.

Turn the oven up to 400F. Dust the shanks in flour and brown them on all sides over high heat in a high sided oven-proof pan that's large enough to hold them.  Remove them to a plate and saute the carrots and celery in the same pan.  When they begin to soften and become fragrant (2-3 minutes), add the onions, garlic, herbs and saute 2-3 minutes more.  Add the meat, stock and 2 cups of wine.  Bring to a boil, cover and place in the oven for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325F for ~45 minutes. 

While the osso buco is cooking make the risotto.  Combine the water and stock in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low to keep the stock warm.  In a large pot, saute the garlic on medium high heat until fragrant, add the rice and stir to coat.  When the rice is coated in the oil, start to ladle in the warm stock while stirring.  As the stock is absorbed, ladle more in while stirring so the risotto is always wet but not drowning in stock (stirring is the key to creamy risotto and the reason why Italian grandmothers will always beat you at arm wrestling).  As it cooks, the starch starts to come out of the rice and the risotto takes on a creamy texture.  Stop when the rice still has some bite and is a little al dente, before it turns mushy.  Ideally the stock/water runs out when the dish is done but you may need slightly more or less depending on how the risotto gods feel that day.  Once cooked, thoroughly stir in the diced sun dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, and Parmesan and remove from heat.

If all goes well, the osso buco should finish around the time the risotto is done.  Remove the meat to a plate and cover.  Add the last cup of wine, bring to a boil then strain and discard the vegetables, reserving the tomatoes.  Reduce liquid and tomatoes until the sauce thickens.  You can add some butter but I found it was smooth enough on its own.

Layer a spoonful of risotto on a plate, top with meat and one of the tomatoes from the sauce.  Drizzle with sauce, sprinkle with gremolata and serve.  This pairs really well with Italian red wine like San Giovese or Chianti (we chose Chianti) as the wine won't overpower the food.

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