the dinner that almost wasn’t


osso buco with pinenut gremolata & soft polenta

It’s funny how sometimes arranging a time to get together with friends can be a piece of cake and then at other times it can feel like you really need to enlist the help of the NASA logistics team to find a suitable date….

Recently I was wishing that I had the help of a logistics mastermind…After one failed attempt to get a group of fellow wine lovers together, I was hopeful that this time things would work out. But it wasn’t to be. First one party had to pull out because of a last minute business trip to Korea. Then I got a call saying that one of my other guests had been unwell. We decided to risk that she would be feeling better by Saturday evening so I went ahead with my procurement plan and tucked my osso buco in to marinate friday night…

Come Saturday, however, my friend was no closer to recovery and definitely not up for eating….so there I was with a fridge full of food and no one to feed. A few quick phonecalls later I had a solution: my friend Kath had just been ditched by another friend for a hot date. So a warming dinner with a bottle or two of good wine was just the thing she needed…..a warm salad to start, the classic hearty osso buco with oozy polenta and wilted greens and for the finale marsala poached pears with brown bread icecream…..all good things…

a wintery dinner a deux
warm salad of golden baby beets, pancetta & pecans
osso buco with pinenut gremolata & soft polenta
wilted winter greens with garlic & lemon
marsala poached honey pears with brown bread icecream


golden baby beets fresh from the market

warm salad of golden baby beets, pancetta & pecans
serves 4

I looove beets in all their forms. Golden beets are a sunny orangey colour but they pretty much taste the same as purple beets so feel free to substitute if you can’t get hold of golden ones…or use a combination of both.

A warm salad is a great way to begin a wintery meal when you have a rich hearty main course on the menu. The dressing here is adapted from Jeremy Strode’s onion dressing from Two’s Cooking. Sweating the onion is a bit of work but the extra depth of flavour in the dressing makes it worth the effort. This recipe makes more dressing than you’ll need but it keeps in the fridge for at least a week or so.

large bunch baby golden beets
1T balsamic vinegar
1T extra virgin olive oil
100g pancetta, cut into chunky batons
large handful pecan halves, roasted and sliced lengthwise
4 handfuls wild rocket (arugula)
for the dressing:
1/2 red onion, finely diced
100mL olive oil
2T balsamic vinegar
pinch sugar, optional

Preheat the oven to 180C. Scrub beets and trim leaving a small tuft of stalk. Cut beets in half and place on a sheet of aluminium foil. Drizzle with oil, vinegar s&p and seal foil into a parcel. Bake beets for 20-30mins, or until cooked through.

For the dressing place oil in a small frying pan and add onion. Gently cook over a low heat for approx 20mins or until onion is very soft. Remove from the heat and add vinegar. Allow to stand for at least 10mins. Season with s&p and possibly a pinch of sugar.

When ready to serve. Heat fryingpan over medium high heat and cook pancetta until well browned. Add pecans and allow to toast. Add beets to warm through then divide beets between 4 small warmed plates. Scatter over pecans and pancetta and top with rocket leaves. Drizzle with a little onion dressing and serve immediately.

osso buco with pinenut gremolata & soft polenta
serves 4

I developed this version of osso buco from Jared Ingersoll’s whole braised beef shin.  He drys his gremolata in the oven but I perfer to keep it fresh and zesty. I liked his idea of cooking the garlic slightly first to make for a more subtle garlic flavour. The pinenuts, another of Jared’s ideas, make a nice nutty addition.

I usually use stock when making polenta but decided to give milk a go for a change and was very happy with the creamy result.  You could add extra butter and parmesan to make a more fully flavoured polenta but I prefer to keep it simple and allow the richness of the meat to be the star.

for the osso buco:
juice and peel of one orange
2 large sprigs rosemary, leaves picked
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, smashed
4 pieces beef shank (osso buco) approx 900g
1.5C red wine
1 tin cherry tomatoes (or standard tinned tomatoes)
for the gremolata:
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1T olive oil
3 large sprigs rosemary
zest of 1 lemon
50g pinenuts, toasted
5 sprigs continental parsley
for the polenta:
100g fine polenta
1L whole milk
pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Combine the osso buco ingredients apart from the tomatoes in a casserole dish. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 200C. Allow the meat and marinade to come to room temperature and then add tomatoes. Turn the heat down to 150C and place in the oven. Cook uncovered for 3-4hours or until meat is meltingly tender and the sauce has reduced. During the cooking turn the meat over every half hour to keep the meat moist and to get the lovely caramelised flavours permeating your sauce.

For the gremolata:
Heat oil in a small frypan over a medium heat. Add garlic and cook until just starting to colour. Allow to cool before combining with the remaining gremolata ingredients and chopping together to form a good mix.

When ready to serve, discard the bay leaves and orange peel from the osso buco and put it in the oven to warm through. Meanwhile bring milk and nutmeg to a simmer and add polenta in a steady stream whisking constantly. Simmer polenta over a medium heat stirring frequently until it has thickened. Season and divide polenta between 4 warmed plates. Top with a piece of osso buco, drizzle over sauce, and sprinkle over gremolata.
wilted winter greens with garlic & lemon
serves 4

In winter wilted greens make a nice alternative to a summery salad as a side dish.  You can pretty much use whatever greens you prefer. This time I went for a mix of my current favourite cavolo nero with some of the golden beet leaves and a few large radicchio leaves.

4 large handfuls winter greens (chard, silverbeet, spinach, cavolo nero, beet greens or even the tough outer leaves of radicchio)
2T extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
juice 1/2 lemon, or to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan and add garlic. Cook over a medium heat until garlic just starts to brown then add washed greens and cook stirring until greens have just wilted. Give a good squeeze of lemon juice to give it some zing and season with s&p. Serve immediately.

marsala poached honey pears with brown bread icecream
serves 4

These pears were adapted from a Karen Martini recipe published in Sunday Life. Karen said that the hardest thing about the dish was peeling the pears so I decided to do away with that step and increased the cooking time to compensate.  Feel free to peel your pears if you have the patience.

The icecream recipe is from the Australian Gourmet Traveller sweet things cookbook. I was hoping to replicate the memorable pan d’epice (gingerbread) icecream I had recently enjoyed at the stellar Sydney restaurant: Becasse. My version is not even in the same league as Justin North’s icecream but I have plans for improvement. In the meantime I’ve included my recipe for posterity but you’re probably better off to give it a miss and serve the pears with your favourite vanilla icecream.

4 honey pears or beurre bosc
1C marsala
40g butter
150g demerara sugar
60g pecan meal
for the icecream:
5 slices brown bread, crusts removed
100g demerara sugar
4 egg yollks
1/2C 100g caster sugar
1/2t vanilla extract
300mL cream, lightly whipped

With a sharp knife, tunnel up the base of the pears to remove the core. Stuff cavity with pecan meal and place pears base down in a small oven proof dish that hould the pears snugly.  Pour over the marsala and sugar and dot with the butter. Cover with crumpled baking paper and then seal tightly with foil.

Bake at 150C for 2-3 hours or until pears a well cooked and the skins are just starting to split.  (I baked mine along side my osso buco). Alternatively you could cook at a higher temperature for less time. Serve pears warm with cooking juices and icecream on the side.

For the icecream:
Place bread on a baking tray and top with demerara sugar. Place under a very hot grill and cook until sugar has melted and caramelised. Allow to cool and tear into very small pieces. Place in the freezer until ready to use.

Whisk yolks and caster sugar until pale and fluffy add vanilla and whipped cream and combine. Freeze in an icecream machine as per the manufacturer’s direction. Stir through the caramelised bread and freeze until ready to serve.

note: The egg yolks in this recipe aren’t cooked at all so if you have concerns about salmonella in eggs you shouldn’t use this method.


marsala poached honey pears with brown bread icecream


  • Hi,

    Another good food blog I found the link to from Orangette and by co-incidence, lead back to Paddington. I didn’t think there was anyone else in Sydney who cooked at home!

    I didn’t really have the heart to leave a recipe at orangette for another winter salad but locally the ingredients will be available soon. Another beetroot salad with variations on yours:

    Roast red beetroots, cool and peel. Marinade in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, seville organge juice, pepper and fresh tarragon (make sure it’s not Russian!).

    Your recipes look really yummy too.



  • hey tony,
    thanks for dropping by. beets and tarragon sound like a winning combo. will give it a go.
    haven’t come across russian tarragon…how is it different?

  • Russian tarragon has smaller leaves and a very faint flavour. Not worth buying. If it smells like the real thing it is probably the French variety.

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