Don't let old cooks fool you ... any novice can cook oxtail, but do it on a cold day. This winter warmer oxtail on a hot day just does not quite hit the spot. And try to make it the day before as it will improve while waiting for you. But only add the gnocchi on the day.
Heat some oil in a large pan and brown the oxtail pieces in batches and transfer to a large casserole. Next, brown the onions and add to the casserole. Then break the cloves of garlic off the bulb and throw into the casserole – no need to peel - together with the bay leaves and dried herbs.
Using equal quantities of dry red wine and beef stock, cover the oxtail completely plus a little more so that there is about 2 cm more liquid than food in the casserole. Oil a large piece of baking paper well and place the oiled side inside the casserole on top of the liquids. Now take out insurance (to keep the flavours and juices intact) and cover the top of the casserole with a sheet of tin foil before covering the whole lot with a lid (or another sheet of tinfoil if there is no lid!)
Cook in the oven at 190º C for 2½ hours before checking. If it needs more liquids to remain covered (it shouldn’t), add boiling water. Then using your discretion, continue to cook the oxtail (covered like before) in the oven for as long as it needs for the meat to come off the bone easily when pierced with a fork.
Remove the casserole from the oven and strain the oxtail and juices. Place the oxtail in a bowl, cover and set aside to cool. Then re-strain the cooking liquids, this time discarding the bits and pieces.
Pour the cooking liquid into a saucepan, bring to a boil and then, using your discretion once more, allow to cook rapidly until reduced and thickened to your liking. Just make sure that you have enough of a sauce left to cover the meat and the gnocchi. Alternatively, you can thicken the sauce to your liking with some of the soup powder - and ignore the critics .
Now pick the meat off the bones, discard the bones and place the meat in the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your own heart's content: add - if you like - more salt, freshly-milled black pepper, brown sugar and chopped fresh garlic, thyme and rosemary. Cover with a lid and keep warm.
Finally, cook the gnocchi as per the instructions on the pack. When done, drain well and stir into the oxtail together with the rocket and basil.
Serve with a simple green salad and perhaps some crispy ciabatta for those juices.
Do not rush the cooking - slow heat does best. Oxtail loves being treated slowly and long - to extract every bit of that incredibly distinct flavour. And sorry to do this but for precious-at-heart cooks: if you really hate the thought of using the soup powder to thicken and flavour your sauce, then by all means, make a roux and use that or go for the reduction method. Happy now?