It's my very good friend Jacky's birthday and I'm cooking a special supper, while her husband is bringing a pudding. For my birthday last Autumn, Jacky and Nick gave me a huge tome of Italian regional food, so it seemed appropriate to cook something from the book for them.

I am a huge fan of food which requires little preparation, allowing me plenty of time to socialise with friends who come to dinner, rather than slaving in the kitchen, getting increasingly hot and bothered, and missing out on any choice gossip. I also love slow-cooked food, which can be put in the oven at tea-time, forgotten about for three hours, and then brought out at dinner time.

Osso bucco a la Milanese is a classic Italian dish. My mother used to make it in the 1970s, when she was an expert at cordon bleu/Fanny Craddock style cooking, but when I mentioned it to her the day before I made it, she rattled on about flattened veal, provolone cheese and Parma ham. I pointed out that she was thinking of Saltimbocca, another delicious dish, but not the one I was planning.

Traditionally, Osso Bucco is made with shin of veal, but these days people can be so sensitive about veal, so I bought pork instead. In my local Waitrose, the butchery counter has a pork cut called Osso Bucco. It's cut straight across the shin so has a nice bit of bone in the centre, which keeps the meat moist during cooking. It's also a very cheap cut (unlike veal, which is very expensive).

The recipe called for a casserole dish, but because this is a slow-cook meal, I turned to my trusty tagine, which I use for all sorts of slow-cooked dishes. When using a tagine, you just have to remember to use less liquid than the recipe states, because the shape of the vessel creates steam, which in turn moistens the food. Slow-cooking is essential for Osso Bucco because the long cooking time releases the bone-marrow and gives the sauce a lovely silkiness. The gremolata, which is the traditional topping for the dish, creates a wonderful piquancy, cutting into the rich, garlicky sauce.

This recipe is my version of the classic dish and it was deemed a triumph when I served it with fluffy polenta.

1-2 osso bucco pieces per person
1 tin chopped tomatoes
Chicken stock (about the same volume as tomato tin)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
couple of stalks of celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
small bunch of marjoram or oregano, roughly chopped
3-4 fresh bay leaves
1 medium onion, finely chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper

For the Gremolata
2 tsp lemon zest
1 clove of garlic, very finely chopped
4 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Oven 200C for first hour, then 150C for rest of cooking time. (About 3 hours in total.)

Heat some oil in a pan. Dust the meat with flour and brown. Remove from pan. Add the chopped veg and fry until soft. Add the garlic, herbs, tomatoes and chicken stock. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary. Put everything in a casserole dish or tagine and cook uncovered for about 30 mins. Then cover. After an hour, turn down temperature and check liquid content. Keep checking during cooking to ensure it does not dry out. The resulting sauce should be thick rather than slurpy.

Serve with mashed potato or fluffy polenta, risotto or pasta.


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