One of the things I’ve come to enjoy most about being a cookbook author is seeing which recipe or recipes eventually emerge as favorites once a book is published. Sometimes, even as I’m testing and writing recipes, I have a good idea of which recipes those will be. For example, I had an inkling that the Sour Cherry-Mascarpone Pound Cake from Big Night In might be a hit–with that lineup of ingredients how could it not? It’s probably the most-requested recipe from that book (I just made another one over the weekend for a tasting and book signing event).
But this post is not about pound cake (which I wrote about awhile back for NPR’s Kitchen Window; you can read about it here). This post is about pot roast. If you had told me that a simple pot roast would turn out to be the most popular recipe in The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy, my first book, I might have looked at you kind of funny. After all, pot roast is really nothing more than a piece of beef braised together with some pedestrian vegetables and a few aromatics.
Yet whenever I encounter people who have the book, it seems they are always telling me how much they love the recipe for Gabriella’s Pot Roast. What about the Fennel-Scented Pork Stew? I want to ask. Have you tried the Beef Stew with Juniper Berries? On the other hand, I have to admit they have a point. It is a wonderful recipe. And I’m not just saying that because it’s mine; because, in truth, it’s not–it’s my mother’s (the aforementioned Gabriella). It’s the pot roast of my childhood, and I considered it a special occasion whenever she made it.
Pot roast in general is great comfort food–rich, tender, soul-warming. But there are two things that, to my mind, set this pot roast apart from others. First, it has no potatoes. This makes it less starchy and, in my opinion, more refined. The other is that the vegetables are not in large pieces, but rather chopped finely. As the meat gently braises, the vegetables gradually melt into a delectable sauce. I sometimes toss the sauce with pasta for a first course and serve the roast as a second. You can either slice the meat or, for a more rustic presentation, you can break it up into chunks, which is what I like to do.
Just be sure you start with a good piece of beef. Usually, I use boneless chuck roast for this recipe, but the other day I found a beautifully marbled bone-in piece of grass-fed chuck at my local farmer’s market. Into the pot it went. After I had browned the meat and sauteed the vegetables, I let the roast braise slowly in the oven for a long time-two or three hours. By the time it was done, the whole house was filled with the aroma of pot roast, and by the end of dinner not a shred was left.
It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite recipe from my cookbooks. I’m completely biased; I love them all. But on a Sunday in late fall, when the clock has just been turned back making the days seem much shorter, and when the temperature starts to dip close to freezing at night, then my favorite recipe might very well be this one.
From The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy by Domenica Marchetti, Chronicle Books, 2006
1 boneless chuck roast, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed with the flat side of a knife blade
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup passato di pomodoro (tomato puree) or canned chopped tomatoes
1 cup beef broth (homemade is best)
Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Season the chuck roast with salt and pepper. In ad Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and begins to sizzle place the roast in the pot. Brown it on all sides, turning it every 3 to 4 minutes, for even coloring. Using tongs, transfer the meat to a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, garlic, carrot, and celery and saute, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the onion is pale gold but not browned. Stir in the thyme, followed by the wine, tomatoes, and the broth. Return the meat to the pot along with any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Bring the mixture to a simmer, cover, and place in the oven. Let the pot roast braise, turning the meat every 30 minutes, for about 2 1/2 hours or until it is fork tender and the sauce is deliciously thick and red-brown.
Remove the meat from the sauce and either cut it into thin slices or large chunks. Arrange the meat on a serving platter and spoon the sauce on top.