This is a variation on a classic sugo alla bolonese with the addition of veal shanks, or ossobuco. The sauce gains a delightful satiny texture from the marrow in the bones, while the shanks gain greatly from the herbs used to season the sauce.
Boil up pasta water and prepare some spinach while the sauce cooks, and you'll have a perfect two-course Italian-style winter meal.
- 1 pound (500 g) ground beef - not too lean, or the sauce will be dry - about 85% lean is good
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
- 1 medium-sized onion
- 1 carrot
- One 10-inch stalk of celery
- 1 small bunch of parsley
- 1/4 cup dry red wine
- One 8-ounce (225 g) can tomato paste
- 2 1/4 pounds (1 kg) beef or veal shanks (4-5 pieces, with bone)
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 pound of pasta, either flat, such as straccetti or pappardelle, or round, e.g., ziti or penne
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Begin by flouring the shanks and browning them over a medium heat in a skillet with a non-stick surface. Additional fat will not be necessary.
Flip the Shanks to Brown their Other Sides
When the shanks have browned on one side, turn them to brown the other. Reduce the heat some and continue cooking them, turning them occasionally, while you prepare the sauce.
Make your Soffritto
A soffritto is the finely chopped mixture of herbs that flavor an Italian dish -- in this case carrot, celery, onion, and parsley.
Purists use a mezzaluna, a crescent-shaped knife, and a chopping board, but you can also use a chef's knife or a food processor.
Don't chop the soffritto too finely -- if it's too finely minced the texture of the sauce will suffer.
Heat the olive oil in a broad, deep pot (ideally, one large enough for the shanks to lie flat in a single layer) and saute the soffritto over medium heat, stirring it with a wooden spoon, until the onion turns translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add the ground beef and continue cooking and stirring until it is browned too. Tip: For a lighter sauce, you can reduce the oil to 2 tablespoons and add 1/2 cup of hot water instead.
Add a Little Wine
When the ground meat has browned, add the wine. After adding it continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute.
Next, Add the Tomato Paste
Tomato paste adds flavor, and also acts as a thickener. After adding the tomato paste, add 2 cups of boiling water and stir gently until the sauce is well mixed.
Add the Shanks to the Pot
By now the shanks will have been cooking for about 1/2 hour, and will be nicely browned, while a fair amount of fat will have rendered out of them. Add them to the pot with the tomato sauce, leaving the pan drippings behind.
Partially cover, turn the heat down and simmer everything for at least 2 hours. The longer you cook the sauce the more tender the shanks will be, so feel free to increase the cooking time, adding a little more hot water if the sauce gets too dry.
About 20 minutes before serving time, set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.
While the pasta cooks, transfer the shanks and a little of the sauce to a platter and keep them warm. You will have a few cups of meat sauce left in the pot, and this is more than you will need to sauce the pasta. Any leftover sauce can be refrigerated or frozen for later use.
When the pasta is ready, transfer it to the pot with the remaining sauce and toss to coat evenly.
Serve at once in shallow bowls with freshly grated Parmigiano to sprinkle on top.
The ossobuco shanks can be served as a second course, together with some more meat sauce and a side dish of sauteed spinach.