Sometimes you just feel like pasta and nothing else will do. My plan was to cook osso buco one night last week, which I love with a passion, and I had all the ingredients ready to go but when the time came I just felt like pasta. I didn’t want to team up the osso buco with the traditional risotto, polenta or mashed potatoes – I wanted nice thick slippery strands of pasta. So I decided to turn the osso buco into a ragu and it was a decision that really paid off. Some people would protest that the time and effort of cooking an osso buco and then tearing the meat into shreds would be a waste, but they would be wrong. This was one of the best pasta sauces I’ve ever made. I used to think the ultimate ragu was one made using slow braised beef short ribs or ox tail but they pale in comparison to this osso buco ragu. Traditionally veal shanks are used to make osso buco, and I do always use them if I’m making a white osso buco (osso buco bianca) where the veal really gets to shine through in the more subtle sauce of white wine, herbs and stock. But I find this osso buco, which is the hearty tomato based cousin of the white version, is best made with beef shanks which can stand up better to the gutsy flavours. This is the sort of slow cooking that I love when I’m in the mood to be in the kitchen for a few hours and the long braising means not only succulent, fork tender meat but a wonderfully reduced and complex tomato sauce that fills the house with the most amazing aromas. If you don’t want to serve this as a ragu then just skip the shredding of the meat and serve a shank per person alongside some risotto or mashed potato. Whichever way you decide to serve this it would be wonderful topped off with gremolata (finely minced garlic, lemon rind and parsley) which is the traditional finishing touch for osso buco.
Ingredients – Serves 4-6 and freezes well
4 large beef osso buco (beef shanks) about 1.2kg
4 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 large onions, finely diced
1 stalk celery, very finely diced
1 large carrot, peeled and very finely diced
3 strips lemon peel
2 bay leaves
1 piece parmesan rind, optional
Generous pinch of saffron
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 400g tin diced tomatoes
½ cup white wine
Beef stock, about 1 – 1½ cups
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 150C. Season beef well on both sides and lightly dredge in flour. Heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat in a large heavy bottom pan (use one that is shallow sided, can fit the beef in a single layer, has a lid and is oven proof). Add the beef and cook on both sides until golden brown. Remove and set aside. Lower the heat to medium, add onions along with a pinch of salt to the same pan and cook until soft. Add celery, carrot, garlic and another pinch of salt and cook until lightly golden. Add white wine and cook, stirring to release any sediment on the bottom of the pan, until reduced and almost all evaporated. Add lemon peel, bay leaves, saffron, and tomato paste. Cook for a few minutes, stirring the tomato paste into the vegetables and letting it caramelise slightly. Add the diced tomatoes, bring to a simmer and season with salt and pepper. Place beef back into the pan in a single layer along with the parmesan rind. Add enough beef stock to come almost to the top of the beef and bring it back to a simmer. Place in the preheated oven for 3-4 hours until the meat is very tender and falling off the bone. Half way through the cooking time turn the pieces of beef over. If you think the liquid in the pan is reducing too much, cover the meat with a sheet of crumpled baking paper before covering with the lid.
When the meat is cooked and very tender remove it from the oven and let it cool slightly. Remove the parmesan rind, bay leaves and lemon rind. Then take each shank out of the sauce and tear the meat from the bone, shredding it into bite size pieces. This is best done with your hands and wearing food safe disposable gloves makes it much easier. As you remove the meat, add it back to the pan making sure that you dislodge any of the marrow in the shank back into the sauce. When all the meat has been taken off the bone, stir your sauce and place it over medium heat to warm through. At this stage you may want to add a little more beef stock or water to the pan if you feel your sauce is too concentrated or dry. When the ragu has heated through serve it with pappardelle or fettucini topped with gremolata (see note above) or freshly grated parmesan.