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Mario Batali's Osso Buco with Toasted Pine Nut Gremolata & Polenta con Parmigiano for Cook The Books: "Heat" by Bill Buford

Posted Dec 01 2010 4:28am

For our current Cook the Books selection, our host Johanna of Food Junkie Not Junk Food has brought us back to the restaurant kitchen in Bill Buford's entertaining look at restaurant life in " Heat: An Amateur's Adventures As Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany ." Buford, an acclaimed writer and editor for The New Yorker, leaves his position for what starts out to be a 6-month "extern" or kitchen slave position in Mario Batali's Babbo restaurant. Suffering for his new-found "art" with cuts, burns, exhaustion and ridicule, Buford quickly finds himself immersed in the kitchen, quitting his job and working full time, then moving on to Italy to discover the secrets behind pasta-making and butchery. "Heat" is a rollicking and mostly humorous ride through the back of house with all of the gory details.


Besides learning about the restaurant business, we learn (more than I ever wanted to know) about Mario Batali, from his early days, to his life of excess and his rise to masterchef and restaurateur. Having the perception that Batali was the mild-mannered, orange-Croc wearing, slightly prissy and precisely speaking chef from his television programs, the book is eye-opening and slightly discomforting. "Bad Boy Chef" works well for Anthony Bourdain, but with Mario Batali it seems strange and slightly creepy. ;-) I did enjoy this book, although for exposing the back of house of the restaurant world, Bourdain still gets my vote for #1.

For my dish, I went with inspiration from two sources--my heart and Mario Batali's calves. Osso buco is one of my very favorite dishes ever, and British mega-chef (and another kitchen bad boy) Marco Pierre White had a colorful description of Batali, who worked as White's kitchen slave in the early days of his career. From the book: "I will never forget him," White said, when I met him in London. "He has f*#@king (that's my edit it's a PG blog folks!), big calves, doesn't he? He should donate them to the kitchen when he dies. They'll make a great osso buco. If he walked in today, and I only saw those calves, I'd know it was Mario."


I chose Batali's own Osso Buco with Toasted Pine Nut Gremolata, served with his Polenta con Parmigiano (Polenta with Parmigiano). (Buford devotes most of Chapter 14 in the book to polenta--so it seemed fitting, although I did the quick cooking kind, not the stir for 40 minutes or slow cook for 3 hours kinds Buford talks about.) Together it made a delicious comfort food meal.

The recipes can be found at Food Network here (osso buco) and here (polenta)

Osso Buco with Toasted Pine Nut Gremolata
Recipe Courtesy of Mario Batali
(Makes 4 Servings)

4 veal shanks, cut three inches thick (about 3 1/2 to 4 pounds)
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
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups dry white wine
1 recipe Gremolata (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Season the shanks all over with salt and pepper. In a heavy-bottomed 6 to 8 quart casserole, heat the olive oil until smoking. Place the shanks in the pan and brown all over, turning to get every surface, 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, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil. Place shanks back into pan, making sure they are submerged at least halfway. If shanks are not covered halfway, add more stock.

Cover the pan with 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.

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

Basic Tomato Sauce
Courtesy of Mario Batali
(Makes About 4 Cups)

1 Spanish onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 ounces virgin 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

To Make Tomato Sauce:
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 and add tomatoes. Bring to boil, lower heat to just bubbling and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt to taste and set aside.

Toasted Pine Nut Gremolata
Courtesy of Mario Batali
(Makes 1/2 Cup)

1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted under the broiler until dark brown
zest of 1 lemon

Mix the parsley, pine nuts and lemon zest loosely in a small bowl. Set aside utnil ready to serve.


Polenta con Parmigiano: Polenta with Parmigiano
Recipe Courtesy of Mario Batali
(Makes 4 Servings)

5 cups of water
1 cup quick-cooking polenta (use yellow or white)
8 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring the 5 cups of water to a boil in a 4-quart saucepan. Whisking constantly, add the polenta in a thin stream until all is incorporated. Stir with a wooden spoon until as thick and dense as cream of wheat.

Portion polenta into 4 warmed serving bowls and top each with 2 tablespoons of cheese.


Notes/Results: Tender, flavorful, delicious. This was my first experience cooking with Mario Batali--I just never found a connection with him before, but I gotta say that the man makes a mean osso buco. This is the tomato-based version, more classic than some of the others (Bittman's, Giada's) I have posted before. It starts with Mario's Basic Tomato Sauce (Bonus is that it calls for two cups, leaving me an extra 2 cups to use in another dish). The veal shanks (BTW: unfortunately veal shanks, and especially large, meaty shanks are not that easy to come by here so the ones I bought were probably more Bobby Flay calves-sized rather than Mario Batali calves-sized), are browned and then cooked with veggies, lots of thyme, the basic tomato sauce, stock and white wine in the oven until meltingly tender, then topped with a gremolata of toasted pine nuts, parsley and lemon. The dish hits on all the best notes of flavor and texture--although a tad more garlic would have worked for me. For the polenta, since it was going under the osso buco, I just mixed the Parmesan into it at the end of the cooking time. It turned out creamy and good, and perfect for soaking up all the lovely juices. I would make both of these recipes again.


On a related side note, with osso buco on the brain I am embarking on a new personal quest, challenge, adventure, throwdown or whatever you want to call it and I intend to work my way through a different osso bucco each month until I find the best one--starting with the Food Network cooks/chefs. I counted 39 different recipes on FN--Emeril, Tyler, even Sandra Lee (scary!) has one. My rules--it must be real osso bucco with veal shanks--no turkey leg osso buco, no osso bucco "stroup" (Rachel Ray that means you!), etc. I will post more on it next month including a rating system and the current rankings on the ones I have made so far. ;-)

The deadline for this round of Cook the Books, is Friday, December 3rd, if you have read "Heat" and want to sneak in a quick entry. Otherwise, join us next month when we journey to Japan with Rachel, The Crispy Cook when we read "Untangling My Chopsticks." Not familiar with Cook The Books? It's the best bi-monthly, virtual foodie book club out there (OK, as Johanna and Rachel's CTB co-host, I may be slightly prejudiced). You can get all of the CTB details here and check out our next three books here . Hope you join us!

Happy Wednesday!
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