March 2006 - Column:
First Bite
By Judy Lacey

Italian dishes great hit with crowd

Several months ago, Claud and I were invited to Jane and Don Wyeth’s lovely home for an Italian dinner. The “chef” was Paul Amisano (a co-worker of Jane’s son, Gary Smith) and his “sous chef” was Maria , Gary ’s wife.

Chef Paul and Sous Chef Maria in the Wyeth's kitchen.

Paul and Maria were an outstanding team in Jane’s kitchen, preparing and serving extraordinary appetizers, a delicious main course and of course, a tantalizing dessert. Several of the other guests mentioned how special it would be to “highlight” Paul and some of his recipes in my column, and I definitely concurred.

Paul was born and raised in Atlanta but when you read further you will understand why Italian cooking has always been a part of his life. Paul’s parents, Joseph and Rosellen Amisano were most certainly the inspiration for his passion of food and its’ preparation.

Paul’s father, Joseph is first generation Italian from the Bronx (in New York City ) and Paul’s paternal grandmother, Maria was an incredible cook while her husband, Ernesto was the maitre d at a very famous New York City restaurant, Barbettas. Paul’s mother was born and raised in the south and was brought up on “good ole Southern cookin”.

Now just imagine the collision of these two distinct cooking styles which had to bring about a wide variety of cooking methods and distinctive dishes. Paul’s father wasn’t a fan of Southern cooking so he encouraged his wife to visit his mother in New York City to learn how to prepare Italian dishes. Rosellen (Paul’s mother) later went to cooking school in Bologna , Italy under the tutelage of Marcella Hazan (one

of the best known authors of Italian cookbooks).

With all of this experience, Rosellen became very adept at Italian cooking and entertained frequently. As Paul witnessed her pleasure of cooking and the happiness it gave to others, he wanted to emulate her. Over the years Paul’s mother would encourage him to help her in the kitchen and in doing so Paul began his education in Italian cooking.

Over the years, Paul began enjoying the experiences his parents had - having dinner parties and watching his friends enjoy his distinctive dishes. He also traveled to

Europe (mainly Italy ) which continued to peak his interest in cooking and preparing the dishes he tried abroad.

When Paul was 38, he attended cooking classes on Saturdays at the Culinary Institute of Atlanta to help refine his skills in technique and cooking styles. To further perpetuate his hobby of cooking, Paul worked on weekends for Jerry Dilts and Associates, an Atlanta catering business.

Needless to say, with all of this education and training, Paul truly does have a passion for his cooking and has graciously agreed to share several recipes for some of the dishes he served us. He told me this is one of his favorites from the Marcella Hazan book, The Classic Italian Cookbook .

Braised Veal Shanks, Milan Style aka
Osso Buco alla Milanese

1 cup onion, finely chopped

½ cup carrot, finely chopped

2/3 cup celery, finely chopped

1/4 cup butter

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 strips lemon peel

½ cup olive oil

2 shanks of veal, sawed into eight pieces, about two inches thick

2/3 cup all purpose flour, sprinkled onto a plate

1 cup dry white wine

1 ½ cups beef broth

1 can Italian tomatoes, coarsely chopped (include all juice from can)

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

4 leaves fresh basil

2 bay leaves

3 sprigs parsley

Fresh ground pepper to taste

Salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Choose a heavy casserole with a tight fitting lid that is just large enough to hold the veal pieces (when added) in a single layer. If you do not have one large enough, stand the veal pieces on their sides to fit.

First, place the butter, onions, carrots and celery into casserole. Cook over medium heat for eight to ten minutes until the vegetables are soft and have wilted. Add the garlic and lemon peel and remove from the heat. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Turn the pieces of veal in the flour being careful to “coat” all sides then shake off excess flour.

When the oil is hot, place the veal pieces into the skillet and brown on all sides. Stand browned veal pieces side by side on top of the vegetables in the casserole. Tip the skillet and draw off nearly all of the fat with a spoon. Deglaze the pan by adding the wine and boiling briskly for about three minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan and loosening any residue which may have stuck to the bottom. Pour this over the pieces of veal in the casserole.

In the same skillet, bring the broth to a simmer and pour over the mixture in the casserole. Add chopped tomatoes with juice, thyme, basil, bay leaves, parsley, pepper and salt. * Broth should cover the veal; if it doesn’t, add more broth. Bring contents of casserole to a simmer on the top of the stove. Cover tightly and place in the lower third of the preheated oven. Cook for about two hours, carefully turning and basting the veal pieces halfway through the cooking process.

When done, they should be tender and the sauce should be dense and creamy. If the sauce is too thin, carefully remove the veal pieces to a warm platter, place the uncovered casserole on top of the stove and reduce the sauce over medium heat until thickened. Pour sauce over the veal pieces and serve hot. Paul likes to serve his osso buco over a bed of polenta.

* If using canned beef broth, check flavor and add salt at completion of cooking.

Yield: 6 servings

 

Polenta

1 Tbsp. salt

2 cups coarse ground cornmeal

Bring six cups of water to a boil in a large heavy pot. Add salt and reduce heat to a simmer. Add cornmeal in a steady stream, stirring constantly with a heavy wooden spoon. Do not stop stirring until cornmeal is incorporated into the water and mixture has started to thicken. Stir frequently for 20 minutes. Polenta is done when it starts to pull away from the sides of the pot. When done, pour polenta onto a platter and serve with osso buco.

*You may wish to cook the osso buco in the morning and serve in the evening. Just warm the veal in the oven and cook the polenta just before serving.

Paul wants the readers to know that all of this sounds like a lot of work but the results are absolutely fantastic. I can certainly attest to how good it was when we sampled it. Maria Jones, Paul’s “sous chef” for the evening, is also a multi-talented cook in her own right, and I am hoping I can coax her into sharing some of her favorite recipes with us at a later date. You really don’t want to miss her specialities as she has prepared some fabulous dishes for Jane and Don which I hope she will share with us.

Last Bite

Traditionally, osso buco is garnished with gremolata, a garnish made of minced parsley, lemon peel and garlic which is sprinkled over the dish to add a fresh, sprightly flavor. Many prefer osso buco accompanied by risotto, an Italian rice (using Arborio is traditional) specialty made by stirring hot stock into a mixture of rice (and often chopped onions) that has been sauteed in butter. Try the dish (on different occasions) with polenta and risotto and let me know which you prefer. Either choice is terrific!


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