“When I was little, I was not a great eater,” said Massimo Bebber, Executive Chef at Sirio Ristorante in The Pierre Hotel in New York City. “I was really picky—plain pasta, plain chicken meat, nothing else.” When he was 6 or 7, his grandmother placed a huge plate of osso buco in front of him. “I looked at her, like, ‘Me? You think I’m going to eat all of that?’ And she said, ‘You’re going to sit there all night long, but until you’re done, you’re not going to stand up.’”
Osso buco, a Lombardian specialty, translates as “hole in the bone,” referring to the marrow of the crosscut veal shank bone. Bebber was born in Roncegno, a town in the northern Italian province of Trento, Italy—just a three-hour drive from the birthplace of osso buco. After losing his father at 11 and mother at 14, his grandmother raised him. “I learned a lot from her,” he said. “She taught me, like every single grandmother in Italy, the old school and the way to live and grow up in the right way. She taught me about life, about food.”
After school he would gather ingredients in the garden: tomatoes, string beans and potatoes. He remembers sitting on the terrace in the countryside and cleaning string beans with his grandmother. On Saturdays and Sundays, everyone came over and prepared big meals—lasagna, gnocchi and osso buco. His father butchered pigs for prosciutto and speck. His brother and uncle, who live in Roncegno, buy a half pig in November and make everything by hand like his father used to. “I still have the instrument [my father] was using,” Bebber said. “They like to have the memory, too.”
Bebber’s osso buco is made with a center cut veal shank. “I like to get that two inch and a half, which I think is enough as a portion,” he said. His grandmother’s traditional recipe includes gremolata—finely chopped lemon, parsley, rosemary and sage. He also adds a couple bay leaves, and sometimes juniper berries to give the dish more spice and flavor. First, he pan sears the shank to give it some crunchiness on the outside. Then he covers and braises the dish in the oven for an hour and a half to two hours, and serves it with a classic parmesan-saffron risotto made with Violone Nano rice from Veneto. “It is not something you can prepare a la minuta!” he said.
How does Massimo Bebber’s fall-off-the-bone osso buco stand up to his grandma’s? “Well, you know, Mamma and Grandma—there is nothing that compares!” he said.