Osso Buco is such a foodie dish. It’s not something I grew up with, but ever since I bit into my first savory tender veal shank in Florence, Italy, I was hooked for life. As I traveled Europe, I saw Osso Buco on the menu a few times, but I was turned off because I didn’t know what veal shank was. When I found out it was cow’s leg, I thought, “Who eats cow’s leg?” Chicken legs, frogs legs, sure…but cow legs? Well now…I do. That’s what I love about food exploration. We have these opinions about what we think is good, but with a little adventure and experimentation, our eyes…or taste buds…are opened to new wonderful things.
Speaking of experiments, that’s what led to this dish. I recently asked my readers, “What recipe has you stumped?” One loyal fan responded that she is scared of meatballs. Well, since my favorite meat dish is Osso Buco, it just came naturally that I would try to turn that dish into a meatball, and boy oh boy was it a success!! The basic recipe I use for Osso Buco is from Epicurious, with a couple Zestuous adjustments. This Osso Buco meatball recipe uses that stew base to make the meatballs extra tender.
One of the magical things about Osso Buco is the leg bone itself. Osso Buco is Italian for “bone with a hole,” and that hole is packed with marrow, which gives the beef its flavor. While you could make this dish with ground beef, and it would still turn out nice, using beef or veal shank will make it fantastic.
If you have a great butcher, ask him to grind up two pounds of shank meat for you, but be sure to ask him to reserve the bones…you’ll need those, too. Unfortunately, my butcher was out of shank meat, so I had to go to the regular grocer and do it myself. You’ll need 3-4 shanks. Trim the meat from the bone, but don’t trim the fat. Be sure to save those bones, too. Slice the meat into thin strips (1-2 inches wide). Place on a baking sheet and freeze for one hour. This will help the grinding process, but is not a requirement. Attach a meat grinder attachment to your Kitchenaid mixer, and pass the meat through the course grinder one time. Et voilà! You’re ready to cook…well almost.
Food show watchers have probably heard the term “mise en place” before. It’s pronounced (MEEZ ahn plahs). Its literal translation is “establishment.” In cooking terms, it means to establish all of your ingredients together, fully prepped before you begin to prepare your dish. Once you start this dish, it moves quickly. If you take time to chop your onions while your meatballs are cooking, the meat will overcook. So instead, go through the ingredients and have them prepped in bowls ready in advance.
One more thing before you start. The gremolata garnish is optional, but highly recommended. This is a hearty meat dish and the gremolata adds a light zest to balance all of the flavors.
Osso Buco Meatballs
2 lbs ground veal or beef shank
3-4 veal or beef shank bones
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1/2 to 1 cup flour
3 T. Olive oil
4 T. Butter
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
3/4 cup chopped carrots
3/4 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup red wine (merlot, pinot noir, Bordeaux or cabernet sauvignon)
1 cup chicken broth
1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/2 tsp. ground thyme
1 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. lemon zest
STP to taste (kosher Salt, Tony’s, fresh ground black Pepper)
Mix ground beef, salt, Tony’s and pepper. Shape into 30 one-inch meatballs and place in a baking dish. Place flour in a medium bowl. Gently roll the meatballs into the flour to coat. Shake off excess flour and replace the meatball to the baking dish.
Place the shank bones on a baking sheet. Sprinkle both sides with salt, Tony’s and pepper. Dredge in flour and shake off excess.
Heat the olive oil and three tablespoons of butter in a large, ovenproof pot over medium-high heat (I use the Le Creuset 3 ½ quart oval French oven). Place 15 meatballs in the pot. Brown the meatballs for 6-7 minutes, turning every few minutes for even browning. Transfer the meatballs back to the baking dish.
Add the remaining meatballs to the pot and brown. Transfer to the baking dish.
Add the shank bones to the pot. Brown for 3 minutes, flip and brown for 3 more minutes. Transfer back to the baking sheet.
Add one tablespoon butter to the pot. Then, add the chopped onions, carrot, celery and garlic and cook until tender, 3 minutes.
Add the wine, chicken broth, canned tomatoes (with juice), olives, thyme, parsley, bay leaf and lemon zest to the pot. Bring to a boil, about 5 minutes. Taste and season with a pinch of salt, Tony’s and pepper, if necessary.
Add the bones back to the pot. Then, add the meatballs to the pot, trying to cover all of the meatballs with the liquid. Cover the pot and bake in a 325 degree oven for one hour.
Spoon meatballs over risotto or pasta. Spoon sauce on top and sprinkle with gremolata.
3 T. parsley, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp. lemon zest
Stir ingredients together in a small bowl and sprinkle over the meatballs for added freshness and zest.