Wine can turn an insubstantial dish into a thing of intense and hearty beauty. But for the best results, be careful not to use any old plonk

Wine adds a richness and body to dishes needing a sauce to complete them, and gives depth and soul to sauces that might otherwise be thin and unsubstantial. I've heard many people comment on the fact that the choice of wine used in dishes is not important, but I am a strong believer that a dish is ultimately only as good as the ingredients used, so consider your choice of wine carefully.

In these recipes you will see the methods are, initially at least, similar. They start with what the Italians call soffrito and the French a mirapoix. These consist of onion, carrots and celery cooked slowly to impart sweetness and flavour, followed by wine that needs to be reduced before adding herbs and finally the meat or fish.

The resulting dishes are perfect for now, just before spring temperatures begin to rise and slightly less intense dishes are called for. They are also ideal for the busy cook.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627,

Osso bucco

The bone marrow in the central core of osso bucco is what gives this dish its rich flavour and glossy appearance. Through slow cooking the meat becomes meltingly tender and the marrow so soft and sweet that it can be dug out using no more than a spoon. The final sprinkling of the gremolata adds a freshness and zest to the end dish that is necessary to counteract its rich flavour.

Serves 6

6 pieces of osso bucco, ask the butcher for ones of equal size
Sea salt and black pepper
40ml/11/2 fl oz olive oil
3 celery sticks, trimmed and chopped
6 carrots, peeled and chopped into generous-sized chunks
2 onions, peeled and finely sliced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bunch of marjoram
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley
4 fresh bay leaves
1 tin of good-quality tomatoes
750ml/11/4 pints dry white wine
Salt and pepper

For the gremolata

1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
The zest of 2 unwaxed lemons

Season the meat well all over, and pour the olive oil into a heavy-based saucepan. Place over a medium heat and, when the oil is hot, brown the meat well all over. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Pour off any fat remaining in the pan and return it to the stove. Turn the heat down and add all the vegetables, along with the garlic and herbs. Cook gently for 15 minutes or until the vegetables have begun to soften. Now add the tomatoes, turning up the heat slightly as you do so, followed by the white wine. Cook for a further 10 minutes, then return the meat to the pan. Place a lid on the pan, set the heat to fairly low and cook for an hour and a half. By now the meat will be soft and tender, and the sauce rich and glossy. Taste and adjust the seasoning, it will need more salt and a good grinding of black pepper.

Traditionally, osso bucco is served with risotto Milanese, dense arborio rice generously laced with saffron, but the combination of thick sauce and buttery rice can be too rich for some tastes, so I sometimes serve it with potato gnocchi or even just a leafy green vegetable such as cavolo nero or spinach. I've done it here with gremolata.

For the gremolata, place all the ingredients into a bowl and toss together lightly with your fingertips. To serve, spoon the meat and sauce on to a warmed serving plate and scatter over the gremolata.

Rump of beef cooked slowly in red wine

A good, worthy-tasting dish that after just the smallest amount of work almost takes care of itself – it is perfect thing to cook if you are too busy to be vigilant over a stove, yet want to serve something truly worthwhile.

Serves 6

1.5kg/3lb rump of beef, trimmed of its fat
Sea salt and black pepper
50ml/2fl oz olive oil
2 yellow onions, peeled and chopped
4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 celery sticks, trimmed and chopped
4-6 fresh bay leaves
1 small bunch of thyme
1 small bunch of rosemary
8 cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
750ml/11/2lb good-quality red wine
1 litre chicken stock

Start by seasoning the meat generously all over, then form it into a roll and tie with string. Heat the olive oil over a medium heat in a heavy-based saucepan large enough to easily hold the meat. When the oil is hot, add the meat and brown really well all over, this will take about 10 minutes. Lift out and set aside on a plate.

Next add the vegetables to the same pan along with the herbs and garlic, and turn the heat down to low. Cook the vegetables, stirring every now and then, for 15 minutes or until they have softened and are sweet to the taste.

At this point return the meat to the saucepan. Pour over the wine, followed by the stock. Place the lid on the pan and turn the heat down to its lowest possible setting and leave, if you can, for five hours.

Next, take out the meat and bay leaves then strain the sauce through a colander, pressing firmly with the back of a ladle to pass the vegetables through. This will serve to thicken the sauce. Return the meat and bay leaves to the pan and pour over the strained sauce. Turn off the heat and allow to cool. Before serving, reheat the meat gently, it should by now be falling apart and so soft that it can be eaten with a spoon.

Serve in warm bowls accompanied by whatever you fancy; buttermilk mashed potatoes, crusty bread or just a simple salad and a glass of really good red wine.

Cod with white wine and chilli tomatoes

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 dried red chilli, crumbled
1 small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
A few sprigs of thyme
1 or 2 fresh bay leaves
500ml/17fl oz dry white wine
Sea salt
1 tin or 700g fresh tomatoes, chopped
800g/11/2lb fresh white cod meat, ask your fishmonger to remove the skin

Place a medium-sized casserole dish over a medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is warm add the onion and sweat for five minutes, stirring from time to time until soft. Next add the garlic, chilli, herbs and a pinch of salt. Cook for a further 15 minutes over a low heat, then turn the heat up and add the wine. Allow the wine to spit and bubble up then add the tomatoes, stir well and lower the heat. Cover and cook for half an hour.

While the base is cooking, slice the fish into four 200g fillets and season lightly on both sides. Adjust the seasoning if necessary, turn the heat to low and lay the fillets gently on top. Cover and gently poach the fish for five to six minutes. Serve one fillet per person with sauce spooned over it, accompanied by little boiled potatoes dressed with butter or olive oil.