The women's magazines at the supermarket counter always seem to be trumpeting a plan for putting dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less. But when I've had a hard day, I like to make something that takes a long time to cook.
It only sounds contradictory.
"Quick meals," for the most part, require that you attack the kitchen with the sort of zeal and efficiency that would impress a time-and-motion expert.
A slow-cooked dish -- particularly a braised one -- gives you a chance to unwind. After you've started it, you can have a drink, read your mail or a book, watch TV or telephone a friend.
Timing is not critical. A check now and then, sometimes adding a little more broth or wine to the braising liquid, most often when it seems the dish will be done before I'm ready to eat.
Usually that's latish, though a side benefit is that if I want something really fast the next night, I know the leftovers will be good reheated.
Another bonus of braising is that it works best with less-tender -- and thus less-expensive -- cuts of meat.
Osso buco, the great Milanese specialty, is made with veal shanks braised in wine sauce. The shanks would be impossibly tough if you tried to use them in one of those 30-minute-or-less recipes, but slow cooking softens the meat to succulence and draws out the natural gelatin in the bones to make a thick, luxurious sauce.
Aficionados of osso buco call the highlight of the dish the rich marrow that fills the hollow bone. It is usually eaten last, with a small fork or spoon.
Osso buco is good served with fettuccine or risotto cooked with green peas and wild mushrooms. Plain rice would also make a good accompaniment -- and if you don't want to go to even that much trouble, just use good Italian bread to sop up the rich sauce.
Osso buco also is a good choice for entertaining, since you can do most of the cooking before guests arrive.
Serves six to eight.
2 1/2 to 3 pounds veal shanks
flour seasoned with salt and pepper
1 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dry red wine
1 bouquet garni made with thyme, rosemary, sage and a bay leaf
3 cups demiglace or concentrated beef stock
3 cups freshly made marinara (tomato) sauce; canned may be substituted
Dredge veal shanks in seasoned flour. Heat a heavy roasting pan over high heat. When hot, add olive oil and heat through, then add veal shanks and brown thoroughly on all sides.
When veal shanks are brown, remove from roasting pan and reserve.
Stir the chopped vegetables, garlic, wine and bouquet garni into oil left in pan, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
Return shanks to the pan. Place uncovered in a 500-degree oven for 10 minutes, then stir demiglace and marinara sauce into the pan, cover and lower heat to 200 degrees. Roast for one hour or until shanks are tender.
Serve with risotto or fettuccine.