With Jonathan and Lyndsey coming for supper yesterday and knowing how they love the recipes in Ottolenghi’s wonderful new book, Jerusalem, as much as I do, I looked through it for a dish I hadn’t tried yet. The ‘Slow Cooked Veal with Prunes & Leeks’ sounded perfect for the cold weather. However, I couldn’t source the osso buco steaks and took up Matt, The Village Butcher‘s suggestion I use stewing veal instead. It meant I wouldn’t have the marrow bone with its delicious jelly to thicken the casserole, but I decided that was fine – and the meat itself was, as always from Matt, wonderful.
Then, with leeks at £1 each in the supermarket, I decided that adding 6 to a meal for 4 on top of an expensive meat cut was going too far … and … sorry, Ottolenghi … did I want 6 large leeks in the dish? So, what I ended up with wasn’t quite what Ottolenghi had described … but it was still very nice indeed! And we would never have got to what turned out to be, in Jonathan’s opinion, one of ‘the best dishes I’ve had in ages’ without the recipe. I followed the basic recipe with all the same ingredients but the quantities went my own way a bit … even as I cooked, changing things a little as I went. But then, that’s often the way with a recipe like this with many ingredients … and part of the necessity here was probably also due to using stewing veal rather than 4 osso buco steaks.
I brought down from the top of my kitchen units a big large and shallow old Le Creuset pan that I used to use a lot and now only rarely, but decided it was perfect for this slow cooking recipe. The first thing I had to do was brown the cubes of veal – nice large cubes. I rarely let butchers cut my meat for me but Matt always asks what size I want and then cuts them in a uniform size, so I’m happy for him to do the job with his big sharp knife. I seasoned the meat with salt and pepper. Then I put some oil in the pan, let it get hot, and browned the meat in a couple of batches. It’s important to do this because if you throw it all in in one go, it crowds together, the temperature isn’t right and the meat doesn’t brown properly.
Once the meat is nicely browned, transfer to a plate. When it’s all done, add a little more oil to the pan and add 1 large onion finely chopped and 2 cloves garlic crushed. Allow them to cook gently, stirring occasionally and scraping up any bits of meat from the base of the pan as you go. When they’re golden brown add 100 ml dry white wine and allow it to bubble for a few minutes till the wine almost evaporates.
Now add 150 ml chicken stock to the pan, 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes, a sprig of fresh thyme (Ottolenghi says 5 sprigs but my one that I’d rushed into the garden to cut probably had 5 little sprigs on it), 2 bay leaves, 2 star anise, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, zest of 1 orange, 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Stir well then add the browned meat and bring to a simmer.
Now cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and put into a 180C/160Fan oven for a couple of hours. Check a couple of times that it’s not drying out too much and if it is, add a little more stock or water.
Meanwhile, finely slice the white parts of 2 large leeks and fry till soft in a little oil. Add to the meat and sauce along with 12 soft, pitted prunes and another 150 ml chicken stock. Cover again and put back in the oven for about another hour, or until the meat is nicely tender. Check seasoning.
Made a gremolata by finely chopping a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley with some crushed fresh garlic and zest of 1 lemon. Mix it all together – easiest done with your fingers. I chose to serve my dish with some rice – a mix of brown basmati, red carmargue and wild rice. When ready to serve, spoon a portion of rice into a serving bowl or on to a plate, top with the meat and sauce, then spoon on a good dollop of Greek yogurt and sprinkle the gremolata over the top. I also made a big bowl of green salad to go with the meal.
It was a simply stunning dish; we all loved it. There was a warm spiciness yet the veal brings a softness of flavour to it. Jonathan said he was definitely going to cook this himself … and since he keeps borrowing my Jerusalem book I’ve had to promise him one in his Christmas stocking!