Succulent stew: Osso buco's marrow prized as delicacy in Milanese veal dish

Bone marrow is the prize in the rustic veal-shank stew osso buco.

A dish with an Italian or French name sounds so glamorous that it can seem daunting to cook at home.

Osso buco is a simple yet elegant stew, impressive but fix-and-freeze-ahead fare. And its exotic sounding name? It means "pierced bone" or "bone with a hole" in Italian, as it is made with an inexpensive meat, veal shank, cross-cut into sections, browned, then long cooked until the meat nearly melts off the bone.

The center of each bone, the marrow, is prized by those who love it, as I do, and a special long spoon with a narrow bowl has been developed for eating it. But tiny forks and spoons (whether for fish or pickles) are as satisfactory an aid in pulling out the marrow. It is delicious scooped out and spread on bread or rolls.

Occasionally, sliced veal shank is on sale at the grocery store. When it is, snap it up and freeze it for later use. Otherwise, it usually has to be special ordered or purchased at a wholesale store.

When unable to use veal shanks, substitute a boneless beef or veal roast, such as chuck or sirloin, and give it the same slow braise to come up with an equally special dish, guaranteed to warm to the toes. Technically, it can't be called osso buco, but it is certainly a worth-the-effort succulent stew.

Serves 4

Once the veal is browned, this dish takes very little effort. The gremolata, added at the end by the cook or diner, gives a very special flavor. It can be frozen up to 3 months. Don't be beguiled by the appearance of a large quantity of food -- it will serve four at most. Traditionally, it is served with risotto Milanese or polenta. I serve it with grits or Lowcountry Carolina Gold rice.

Ingredients

1/2 cup flour

5 pounds veal shank, cross-cut into 6 to 8 pieces, fat removed

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

15 green olives, drained, pitted and chopped (optional)

1 tablespoon dried or fresh rosemary, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel (no white attached; see cook's note)

2 cups dry white wine (nonalcoholic if desired)

3 cups canned plum (Italian) tomatoes, broken into pieces, reserving juice

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Sugar (optional)

For gremolata:

2 tablespoons grated or chopped lemon peel (no white attached; see cook's note)

2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley, basil or other herb

Directions

Cook's note: To get lemon peel with no white attached, use a vegetable zester or a potato peeler, then chop the peel.

Place the flour on a small flat plate and dip the veal shanks on the bone sides (tops and bottoms) to seal the marrow in, but not on the (meat) edges. Heat the butter and oil in a large dutch oven until bubbling. Add enough of the shanks to cover the bottom without touching, and cook until they are brown, then turn and brown on the second side, approximately 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside. Repeat with the remainder of shanks.

Spoon off any excess fat, leaving 1 to 2 tablespoons in the pan. Set aside a teaspoon or two of the olives for the gremolata. Add the olives, rosemary, garlic and lemon peel to the pan, then quickly stir in the wine, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan well to dissolve any browned bits (called deglazing). Bring the mixture to a boil, and boil 3 to 5 minutes, until slightly reduced. Stir in the tomatoes.

Add the veal shanks, cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook for 50 minutes, checking occasionally to see it doesn't dry out. Add the reserved tomato juice if needed. Turn the shanks over, re-cover and cook for an additional 25 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding salt, pepper, and sugar as necessary. This may be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen and reheated before serving.

To make the gremalota:

In a small bowl, combine the lemon peel, garlic and parsley or basil. Add the reserved chopped olives if desired.

When ready to serve, place the hot veal shanks on a platter, spoon the pan sauce over the shanks, and garnish with the gremolata (or pass it around and let diners add their own).

Nathalie Dupree is the author of 11 cookbooks, most recently "Southern Biscuits." She lives in Charleston and may be reached through Nathaliedupree.com.