The Italian pot roast I had many years at a dinner party given Beatrice Ughi of Gustiamo, an importer and retailer of superb Italian foods, has haunted me ever since, lurking around my sense memory as pure deliciousness. I’ve always thought: how smart of Beatrice to make Stracotto for a dinner party; it could be made ahead and only had to be reheated to be wonderful. It you call it by its Italian name, it tastes even better.
Recently I thought, I WANT that recipe. So I forged one myself, from my taste memory and reading a host of recipes: variations of red wine, plum tomatoes and aromatics become a braising medium for a tough, flavorful cut of meat. Daunted by the idea of chopping four cups of carrots and celery that most of the recipes called for, and as part of my quest to simplify my cooking, I decided to see what would happen if I made the dish without them..and in the bargain found a trick.
The carrots and celery basically add sweetness that tempers the acidity of the wine and tomato. A tablespoons or so of honey did the same thing.
Recipe: Italian Pot Roast (Stracotto)
The Stracotto can be made up to four days ahead and refrigerated, or frozen for several months.
Serves 6 (4 with leftovers)
3 pound beef rump, chuck or brisket OR Four 16-ounce beef short ribs
2 to 3 teaspoons kosher salt (3/4 teaspoon per pound of meat)
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium onions, roughly chopped (I like to do this while the meat is browning)
5 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
2 cups full-bodied red wine
1 cup store-bought or homemade beef or chicken broth
One 28-ounce can peeled tomatoes
A small handful of dried porcini mushroom slices
3 branches EACH thyme and rosemary
A few sage leaves (optional)
A few scrapings grated nutmeg (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon wildflower honey, or more to taste
Gremolata garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F (190°C). If possible, a few hours to 24 hours ahead of cooking, sprinkle the beef evenly with; place in a vessel covered with plastic wrap in the fridge. This allows the salt to penetrate the meat and season it all the way through. Otherwise, salt the beef before cooking.
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Blot any moisture from the beef and add to the skillet (If short ribs, do now crowd them). Cook until they’re deep brown on all sides, adding additional olive oil as necessary, about 15 minutes total.
Transfer the meat to a plate and keep the pan over medium-high heat. If necessary, add an additional oil to the pan along with the onion and garlic. Cook stirring occasionally, until they are browned and softened, about 4 minutes.
Stir in the red wine. Use your hands to crush the tomatoes directly into the pot, discarding any tough stem ends. Add the tomato juices and the broth, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dislodge any browned bits. Add the mushrooms, herbs and nutmeg. Bring the mixture to a boil and return the meat to the pot.
Cover tightly with aluminum foil and transfer to the oven. Cook for 2 hours, or until the meat is tender and easily pierced with a fork. (Tougher, or grass-fed meats will take longer).
Remove the meat to a deep platter and cover with foil. Taste the sauce and just enough honey to mellow the acidity and balance the flavors, adding additional salt if necessary. Slice the meat thinly and arrange on the platter. Pour the sauce over the meat and serve. If desired, sprinkle some of the Gremolata over each serving.
NOTE: The Stracotto can be made up to four days ahead and refrigerated, or frozen for several months. After it has cooled, chill it overnight in the fridge. The fat will solidify on the surface and can be removed and discarded. Then seal in a close-fitting plastic container. Keep four days in the fridge before serving or freeze. Defrost when needed.
To heat, place in a shallow pan with a lid and bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer until the meat is warmed through.
1 small garlic clove (about 1 teaspoon coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Mince all the ingredients together. Taste and adjust the amounts of ingredients accordingly.