I am always amazed at the reaction of people at the mention of grits. If they are not from the south, they all too often make one of those faces and promptly proclaim, “I don’t eat grits.” And, they say it in the way people say, “I don’t eat chicken feet.” As if there was something so distasteful, it would make them sick. There is no big aroma or even big taste to grits, but there is a texture not unlike a cream of wheat, and the only reason (me thinks) a person should snub out grits is if they are snubbing out the ingredients they are cooked with.
So if I tell you that these grits are flavored with pecorino romano, and a slow cooked veal-based, tomato wine sauce from Marcella Hazan, would you still turn up your nose? I think not.
Now, how in the world did this California Yankee decide to use grits as my base for my sweet, aromatic, milanese ossobuco? WelI, I couldn’t find polenta and some might even argue that grits and polenta are the same thing, they are similar, but not the same. I had polenta in my mind, in my heart, and yet not in my grocery bag. But, I had just cracked open my bag of Falls Mill White Corn Grits, ground by water power right here in middle Tennessee for a shrimp and grits dish and I had a cup of grits remaining. Isn’t this really what a true Italian would do? Grab the freshest local ingredient and make it work. But, you might be thinking, they are the same thing. Grits are much finer than their courser counterpart, but yes, you can certainly cook them in very similar fashion, and so I did.
There are two ways to do this. You can make the grits and top it with the veal and sauce, or you can make the grits and take half of the sauce, an extra cup of broth and chopped tomatoes and cook the grits in the sauce. It’s good either way. Just make sure you realize how much liquid your grits will be absorbing (like rice or pasta) when added into a dish uncooked. Add lots of liquid for that absorption.
Falls Mill, located in Beveldere, Tennessee, they travel by wagon to a local farmer to purchase white hybrid corn. Then using only water power, they make the grits, including powering the elevator. I am so smitten with this company, I plan on making a trip to visit their museum and country store on my next sunny day off. You can order from their website and please note that their corn grits are perishable and must be refrigerated, as there are no preservatives. I nearly missed this because I am so used to throwing any bag of grains right into my pantry.
Traditionally, ossobuco (braised veal shanks) is made with risotto milanese, sometimes mashed potatoes or creamy polenta. This tells you right off the bat that this is comfort food, the kind of comfort food that supersedes any fancy pants, couture cuisine. Veal, and veal bones in a braise means exceptional flavor that does not overpower anything else in the pot. It’s the quintessential rustic elegance that is more and more become the Spinach Tiger calling card.
This is the first time I’ve ever made ossobuco, which is sometimes spelled in two words, osso buco, but it won’t be the last. I’m not afraid to embrace veal; it’s part of my heritage, and while it can be expensive, I was able to get two very meaty shanks at Fresh Market for $14. I now wish I would have bought 4 because we could easily eat this two days in a row. Although, after having eaten this meal, I think the four shanks would have disappeared in one night.
There are a lot of recipes for ossobuco on the internet. What is the same in all of them is browning the veal shanks, and using vegetables, aromatics and white wine to braise for several hours, until the meat falls off the bone, which is why you tie it with string (something I forgot to do). The traditional garnish is a gremolada, a compound of parsley, lemon zest and garlic.
Marcella’s recipe calls for 8 veal shanks. I only used two, but did not reduce any other ingredients. I wanted a lot of sauce, knowing I would be using it for the grits. I also added in fresh thyme. I used a can of San Marzano tomatoes, a little more expensive than other brands, but taste like you just took them out of the garden in August, and worth it. The sauce tasted bright, fresh and a little sweet in teh way a good tomato can taste sweet.
Ready to go into the oven, white wine, chopped tomatoes, parsley, sauteed, carrot, onion, celery, fresh thyme, bay leaf.
Optional: Ossobuco atop grits that are already mixed with sauce. Rustic can look beautiful.
Gremolada, the traditional garnish of parsley, lemon zest and garlic.
- 1 cup onion
- ⅔ cup carrot, finely chopped
- ⅔ cup celery, finely chopped
- 4 T butter
- 1 teaspoon garlic chopped fine
- 2 strips lemon peel (I used lemon zest)
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- 8 veal shanks (Note: I only cooked 2 meaty shanks and used all the rest of the ingredients)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup meat broth
- 2½ cups canned plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- several sprigs fresh thyme
- several sprigs parsley
- freshly ground pepper
- sea salt
- Preheat oven to 350, for two hours of braising
- Choose heavy pot that can be put in oven, large enough to put a single layer of veal shanks.
- Put onion carrot celery and butter on medium heat, cook 6-7 minutes, add garlic and lemon cook few more minutes.
- Put some vegetable oil in skilled and turn on heat to medium high. Coat veal in flour, and when pan is hot, brown veal on both sides. Once browned, put veal in pot over chopped vegetables. With only a little oil left, add wine , reduce and scrape bottom. Pour over veal. Put broth in skillet, simmer and add to pot.
- Add in tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. You want the veal to be covered ⅔ in broth. Place in lower third of oven for two hours, basting every twenty minutes. If using a self-basting cast iron enamel pot, the frequent basting is not necessary.
- Once you are close to the two hours, make grits picking one of the ways discussed below.
- Serve with a garnish of gremolada.
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
¼ teaspoon garlic chopped finely
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Place grits in a bowl. Pour cold water over and swirl and pour out water. The light bran will float to the top. Carefully pour off water, reserve the grits. I do this a few times to make sure. Then proceed with package directions. The grits will typically double, and will require constant stirring on low heat to avoid lumps.
If you choose to make this as separate from veal, add in ½ cup grated pecorino romano, 1-2 T of butter and season to taste with salt and pepper.
If you choose to cook this in the sauce, for every cup of grits, add 1 cup broth and 1 cup chopped tomatoes with juice. If it seems too think, add in a little more broth.