Culinary SOS: Eggplant osso buco

Eggplant osso buco, adapted from a dish at the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara. Recipe: Eggplant osso buco

Eggplant osso buco, adapted from a dish at the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara. Recipe: Eggplant osso buco

(Bob Chamberlin, / Los Angeles Times)
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Los Angeles Times

Dear SOS: We went to Santa Barbara and had very good lunch at Four Seasons-Biltmore. We wanted to order a vegetarian meal, and there it was on the menu, eggplant osso buco. You usually think of osso buco as meat, but that was eggplant in that shape of osso buco. It was served on a puree, drizzled with olive oil.... Delicious! I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. Would it be possible to get the recipe?

Danielle Pacholczyk


Dear Danielle: One look, and I would never have guessed this dish was vegetarian. Seasoned, seared eggplant “steaks” (studded with hearts of palm to mimic osso buco) are plated over a rustic polenta, topped with a spoonful of rich mushroom Bolognese sauce and served alongside bright broccolini to make a rather stunning presentation. This is one meal that may convert even the most ardent meat eater. Enjoy!

Eggplant osso buco, mushroom Bolognese, rustic polenta

Total time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Servings: 4

Note: Adapted from Bella Vista at the Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore Santa Barbara. The restaurant uses “otto file” polenta from Anson Mills, available at select specialty markets and cooking stores, as well as online.

Mushroom Bolognese

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup finely minced celery

1/3 cup finely minced onion

1/3 cup finely minced carrot

3 garlic cloves, finely grated

1 cup minced shiitake mushrooms

1 cup minced portabello mushrooms

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 cup mushroom or vegetable broth

2 sprigs fresh tarragon

1 small bay leaf

Salt, pepper

1. In a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until hot. Add the celery, onion, carrot and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly caramelized, about 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms have rendered their liquid and are lightly browned, about 8 minutes.

3. Stir in the tomato paste and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the paste darkens slightly and forms a thin film on the bottom of the pan (careful not to burn), about 5 minutes.

4. Stir in the mushroom or vegetable broth, scraping the flavoring from the bottom of the pan, then stir in the tarragon and bay leaf. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is reduced to a thick, sauce-like consistency, 3 to 5 minutes. Season to taste with one-half teaspoon salt and one-fourth teaspoon pepper, or to taste. Remove from heat and discard the tarragon and bay leaf. This makes about 2 cups of sauce. Reserve the sauce in a warm place, or cover and refrigerate until needed, warming on the stove top and thinning as needed with additional broth before serving.

Cooked eggplant

1 to 2 large eggplants, peeled and cut crosswise into 2-inch sections (you will need 4 pieces, total)

Salt and pepper

1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil

4 large strips of lemon zest, from 1 to 2 lemons

4 sprigs thyme

2 sprigs fresh sage

1. Bring a large pot of water to a simmer, or prepare a large steamer.

2. Place 2 pieces of eggplant each in a large vacuum-seal bag or sealable plastic bag. Sprinkle a pinch each of salt and pepper over the eggplant pieces in each bag, then drizzle over the olive oil (2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon in each bag). Divide the lemon zest, thyme and sage between the bags, then seal, removing as much air as possible.

3. Place the bags in the simmering water (you will need to weigh them down with a plate or small pan to keep them submerged) or in the steamer basket. Cook the eggplant until softened and tender, 12 to 17 minutes in simmering water and up to 30 minutes steamed.

4. Remove the bags and place them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process. The eggplant can either be held at room temperature if cooking right away (keep sealed in the plastic bags) or can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated up to one day until needed (bring to room temperature before using).

Rustic polenta

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk, more if needed

1 1/4 cups vegetable or mushroom broth, more if needed

1 cup (5 ounces) polenta

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter

1 ounce grated Grana Padano cheese

Salt and pepper

1. In a medium, heavy-bottom saucepan, bring the milk and broth to a boil. Rain in the polenta and cook over low heat until softened and tender, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

2. Stir in the butter and Grana Padano, thin if desired with additional milk or broth, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Eggplant “osso buco” and assembly

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Prepared cooked eggplant

4 (3-inch) pieces hearts of palm

1 bunch blanched broccolini

Prepared polenta

Prepared mushroom Bolognese

Finely grated lemon zest

1. Stir together 2 tablespoons olive oil and the lemon zest. Set aside to infuse the olive oil with flavor while you prepare the remainder of the dish.

2. Remove the eggplant from the plastic bags (discard the herbs and peel), lightly patting the eggplant to remove excess moisture. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add the olive oil, then add the eggplant pieces. Sear the eggplant on one side until golden-brown, 3 to 4 minutes, then flip. Add the hearts of palm to the pan.

3. Sear the other side of the eggplant, turning the hearts of palm as needed until seared on all sides, about 2 minutes. Shortly before the eggplant and hearts of palm are done, add the broccolini to the pan, tossing with the oil and warming.

4. Remove the eggplant, hearts of palm and broccolini from heat. Cut a round out of the center of each piece of eggplant using a knife or very small cookie cutter. Fit a piece of heart of palm in each hole to mimic the bone in osso buco.

5. To plate, place a spoonful of polenta in the center of each of 4 dishes. Top with the “osso buco.” Top with a spoonful of mushroom Bolognese. Divide the broccolini among each serving. Garnish each serving with a drizzle of lemon-infused olive oil and lemon zest. Serve immediately.

Each serving: 724 calories; 14 grams protein; 53 grams carbohydrates; 15 grams fiber; 54 grams fat; 12 grams saturated fat; 27 mg cholesterol; 14 grams sugar; 1,031 mg sodium.