As I arrived in Milan, awestruck by this stylish, cosmopolitan city, the taxi driver instructed me to do one thing during my visit: “Eat ossobuco”.
Ossobuco, which translates to ‘hollow-bone’, is a stew of braised veal shank. The meat is cooked with sofrito (slow-cooked onions, celery and carrot), white wine and stock and garnished with gremolata. It is traditionally served on a bed of saffron risotto and dusted with parmesan.
Ossobuco is fundamentally representative of the north Italian region Lombardy’s identity; its history, culture and landscape. Said to be a creation of the private cooks of Milanese bourgeoisie in the 19th century, ossobuco illustrates Milan’s prosperity at a time when poverty afflicted other parts of Italy. It is intended for the cool Lombardy winters and influenced by Lombardy’s geopolitical heritage of Austrian rule. Veal is the product of northern Italy’s prime cattle grazing, whilst the use of butter as fat, risotto as starch and lack of tomato underpin the foundations of northern Italian cooking.
Pellegrini Artusi included ossobuco in his La Scienza in Cucina (1891), which codified Italy’s burgeoning national cuisine. It was integral to Artusi’s vision of formalising a national identity through cuisine.
The 20th century saw the globalisation of ossobuco; it became a standard of French and British home-cooking. In Melbourne, northern Italian restaurants offer ossobuco. Fusion variations exist, for example, The Smith’s ‘soft fajitas with Cuban-braised wagyu ossobuco’.
Ossobuco remains the cherished centrepiece of Milanese cuisine. In 2007, the Milan City Council proclaimed ownership of the dish.
My first night, as instructed, I participated in the tradition of eating ossobuco. The taxi driver was right, it was the highlight of my visit.
Cloake, Felicity. “How to cook the perfect ossobuco.” The Guardian, 6 March 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2014/mar/06/how-to-cook-perfect-osso-buco.
Downes, Stephen. “Food review: The Smith.” News.com.au, 1 May 2012, http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/food/review-the-smith-in-prahran/news-story/11dce94bfa2005b56b6426b9dc3aa779.
Hajek, John. “Italy in the 19th century: Lecture 4,” EURO20007: A Taste of Europe, (Parkville, The University of Melbourne, 9 February 2017).
Helstosky, Carol. “Recipe for the nation: Reading Italian history through La Scienza in Cucina and La Cucina Futurista.” Food and foodways: Explorations in the history and culture of human nourishment 11 2-3 (2003): 113-140.
Scarpato, Rosario. “That tender, juicy ossobuco. The symbol of the most tempting Italian cuisine.” GVCI – Virtual Group of Italian Chefs, 2012, http://www.itchefs-gvci.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=770&Itemid=1155.
Featured photo: http://www.agrodolce.it/locale/trattoria-meneghina-milano/
Artusi cookbook: https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_scienza_in_cucina_e_l’arte_di_mangiar_bene
Other photos are the property of the author.