Panacea for a persistent pandemic: Hefty, warming, succoring pot roast

Feb. 16, 2021
The stracotto (Italian) pot roast atop the stove before going to the oven.
The stracotto (Italian) pot roast atop the stove before going to the oven. Photo: Bill St. John.

Panacea for a persistent pandemic: comfort food. Hefty, warming, succoring comforting food.

Today’s recipe is a combo of a traditional “Yankee pot roast” and an Italian version of the same called “stracotto” (“overdone,” but happily). The signatures in the latter are garlic slivers imbedded in the meat, and an unholy amount of basil for verdant flavor, over and above the common and also-included herbal notes of rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf.

Serve this with whatever sides you desire or have on hand — baked or “smashed” potatoes, rice, or pasta, or more vegetables — you get the idea.

Get more great recipes and tips from Bill St. John.

We ordinarily do not associate the Italian kitchen with the cooking of beef; instead, it is pork, fish certainly, even lamb. If eating beef in the Italian way comes to mind, it is of veal, such as vitello tonnato or osso buco.

But of course, there is a long tradition of eating beef in (parts of) Italy, especially in the wealthier territories, beef meat being a more elite protein than that of the pig. So, Tuscany has its bistecca fiorentina and Lombardy, its bresaola.

This stracotto is originally a Tuscan recipe, a takeoff from of the more frequently made pot roast there, cazzuola di montone, mutton stew.

The stracotto (Italian) pot roast served.
The stracotto (Italian) pot roast served. Photo: Bill St. John.

But we eat Italian “beef”— or at least pay great homage to it — all the time, do we not?, when we consume so many cow’s milk cheeses from Italy, that from the red-hided vaca rossa that give the milk in Emilia-Romagna to those who fashion the great Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano cheeses, to the Asian bufala who give their blue-white milk to the cheesemakers from the south, around Naples, who give us Mozzarella di bufala.

Beef milk is produced in nearly every section of Italy, and from them come so many other cheeses, yes?: Asiago, Fontina, Mascarpone, Ricotta, Piave, Provolone, and my two favorite Italian cow’s milk cheeses, Gorgonzola and Taleggio.

Have some after enjoying this stracotto, to make an end to a comforting, all-Italian meal.

Stracotto (Italian Pot Roast)

Serves 4-6

Ingredients for this Italian pot roast

3 pounds boneless beef chuck or rump roast

3 large cloves peeled garlic, slivered, plus 10 cloves whole garlic, peeled

4 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil

3 medium to large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths

2 red or yellow onions, peeled and quartered or in eighths, depending on the size of the onions

3 stalks of inner celery, leaves included, cut into 2-inch lengths

1 large (or 2 medium) kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks (you may substitute rutabaga)

20 or so 1- to 2-inch chunks of mushroom (cremini, button, shiitake tops)

1 14-22 ounce jar whole peeled tomatoes and their juices

Bouquet garni constructed of 2 sprigs rosemary, 3-4 sprigs thyme, 2 bay leaves, tied (if available, tied inside a leek sheath or leaf)

1/2 cup basil leaves, packed, chopped

1 and 1/2 cups dry red wine (or same quantity of 100 percent tart cherry juice)

2 cups beef broth

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions for this Italian pot roast

Pierce the meat in many places with the point of a small, sharp knife and insert into each opening a sliver of garlic; you should end up with several dozens of filled pockets. Lavishly salt and pepper both sides of the meat. In a large, oven-proof Dutch oven or casserole, and over a medium-high burner, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and sear the meat very well on both sides, browning and caramelizing it nicely, 5 minutes or more each side. Remove the meat to a plate off the heat.

Add the remaining oil and in it cook the carrots, onions, celery, kohlrabi (or rutabaga) and mushrooms, stirring well and scraping up any of the browned bits in the pot from the meat searing, 9-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees. To the pot on the stove, add the tomatoes and their juices, crushing them with your hand as you do so, or using a potato masher when they are in the pot, so that they are well mashed or broken up. Stir them into the other vegetables and let the mixture thicken a bit, 2-3 minutes. Add the bouquet garni, the basil, the wine (or cherry juice), and the beef broth, stir it all up, scraping again, then lay the browned meat on top of the whole garlic cloves, vegetables and flavorings, assuring that the liquid reaches up the sides of the meat but not over it. Bring the pot to a steady simmer on top of the stove.

Cover the pot and place it in the oven. After 30 minutes, lower the heat to 300 degrees and cook for 2 hours, turning the meat over every 30 minutes. After 2 hours, remove the cover of the pot and continue cooking in the oven for another 1 hour, not flipping the meat during this time so that its top obtains a nice dark crust.

To serve or finish: Remove the pot from the oven, tossing out the bouquet garni, and let it cool overnight in the refrigerator so that any fat will congeal and can be removed easily. (If you don’t time for an overnight rest—of the meat—try to remove as much fat from the top of the pot, skimming with a spoon.)

Remove the meat from the pot, let it set up for 15 minutes, then slice it thickly on the bias. If you wish the meat extra-warm, heat the slices in the pot with its vegetables, serving the slices with them, or purée or blend the vegetables into a thick sauce to serve alongside and atop the slices of meat and its sides.

Reach Bill St. John at billstjohn@gmail.com

About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s sidewalk.com. In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.

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