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Recipe Finder | Osso buco not as intimidating as you may think

Dorothy Griffith of Sparks was looking for an osso buco recipe. She enjoyed the dish while on vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and was not been able to find it once she got home.

Osso buco is a classic Northern Italian dish traditionally made of veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth. Osso buco is Italian for "bone with a hole" or "pierced bone," based on the marrow hole that can be found at the center of the cross-cut veal shank. The veal shanks are browned and then cooked slowly in a subtle tomato sauce. The dish has a reputation for being difficult and time consuming. But while it is true that, like most braises, it requires slow, gentle cooking to become tender, it is also quite forgiving. You just want to take care not to overcook the meat.

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Ask your butcher for veal shanks similar in size, anywhere from 1.5 to 3 inches thick. If possible, have the butcher tie the meat to the bone. The initial searing of the meat is essential to the outcome of the dish — take care not to let the pieces touch in the pan while they are browning. Contrary to popular belief, you can overcook veal shanks, so pay careful attention to the final half-hour of cooking.

There are many recipes for this dish, but the one I have had the most success with comes from Mario Batali's book "Simple Italian Food." His recipe for osso buco with a toasted pine nut gremolata is easy to follow and an ideal dish to make for entertaining because it can be made ahead. In fact, like most braised dishes, it tastes even better made at least a day ahead of serving, allowing time for the flavors to meld.

If cooking osso buco ahead of time, Batali suggests that you undercook the dish slightly and separate the meat from the braising liquid, allowing it to cool separately. Once cooled, add the meat back into the liquid, cover tightly and store it overnight in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, reheat until the sauce bubbles and the meat is beginning to fall of the bone, taking care not to overcook. Top with the gremolata and serve over orzo or risotto.

Requests

Jama Lazarow, originally from Baltimore and now living in Brookline, Mass., would love to have the recipe for the white cake that was made by the long-closed Fiske's Caterer and Confectioner, originally located on Park Avenue in Bolton Hill. Lazarow said the delicate cake had a thin jelly layer and light lemon icing or glaze and was his all-time favorite. He requested it every year for his birthday. Lazarow also remembers that they made miniature cakes in the shape of half moons the same way. He is hoping someone might have some of the bakery's recipes to share.

Osso buco with toasted pine nut gremolata

Makes 4 servings

4 veal shanks, cut 3 inches thick (about 3 1/2 to 4 pounds), tied to secure meat to bone

Salt and pepper

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium carrot, chopped into 1/4-inch-thick coins

1 small Spanish onion, chopped into 1/2 -inch dice

1 celery stalk, chopped into 1/4-inch slices

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2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 cups basic tomato sauce (recipe follows)

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups dry white wine

1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted under the broiler until dark brown

Zest of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Season the shanks all over with salt and pepper. In a heavy-bottomed 6- to 8-quart casserole (preferably cast iron), heat the olive oil until smoking. Place the shanks in the pan and brown all over, turning to get every surface, for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the shanks and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium, add the carrot, onion, celery and thyme leaves and cook, stirring regularly, until golden brown and slightly softened, about 8 to 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 halfway, add more stock. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid of aluminum foil. Place in oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours and cook until meat is nearly falling off the bone.

For the gremolata, mix the parsley, pine nuts and lemon zest loosely in a small bowl. Set aside until ready to serve.

Remove the casserole from the oven and let stand 10 minutes before topping with gremolata and serving.

Basic tomato sauce

1 Spanish onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

3 ounces olive oil

4 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (or 2 tablespoons dried leaves)

1/2 carrot, shredded finely

2 28-ounce cans of tomatoes, crushed and mixed

Salt to taste

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until translucent but not browned. Add thyme and carrot, cook 5 minutes over medium heat, then add tomatoes. Bring to a boil, lower heat to just bubbling and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt to taste and set aside.

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