This classic pot roast comes from northern Italy, a specialty of my husband's nonna. Some additions you may like to consider: lardo or pancetta (cut into strips, added with the vegetables), spices such as whole cloves (to be removed along with the bay leaves later) and cinnamon, and a splash of Cognac (before the red wine—let it evaporate before adding the wine). If you prefer a thicker sauce (note: that this isn't a gravy, but a much thinner sauce), rather than add flour, you can add more vegetables, up to double the amount. When you blend it, the puréed vegetables will add more body to the sauce.
I cannot recommend enough you choose a wine you like the taste of for this—it doesn't have to be expensive, but just one you like. Don't think you can use a wine that is corked or tastes like vinegar or that you don't love, as it the pot roast will taste remarkably like imperfect wine.
The next ingredient that you need to choose well is the meat—ask your butcher for a simple roast, such as chuck roast (also known as pot roast) from around the shoulder. It's known as sottopaletta in Piedmont or Cappello del Prete ('the priest's hat'). You want something with a little marbling or connective tissue in it—too lean and this can easily become too dry after cooking for so long (hence the tradition of adding lardo or pancetta to add fat).
Finally, the most important tip is to make this in advance. Its flavors are much better after a full night's rest. —Emiko
2 1/2 pounds
(1.2 kg) beef chuck roast/pot roast
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
(50 grams) cold butter
stalk celery, diced
garlic cloves, peeled
mixed fresh herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme
bottle (25 fl oz or 750 ml) dry, full-bodied red wine (see note)
Water or beef stock, to cover
Optional: a few whole cloves, cinnamon, some juniper berries (see note)
In This Recipe
Rub the beef with salt and pepper. If you like, you can tie the beef with kitchen string too, to help it keep it shape during cooking. Heat the olive oil in a (preferably ovenproof) pot, such as a Dutch oven (in Italy a terracotta pot is often used). Sear the beef in one whole piece over high heat on all sides until a nice brown crust develops. Remove the beef and set aside.
Turn the heat to low. Add the onion, carrot and celery by sweating them gently with a good pinch of salt and half of the butter until the vegetables are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Return the beef to the pot, tip over the bottle of wine, add the garlic cloves, herbs (and optional spices, if using) and season with salt and pepper. Over medium heat, bring the wine to a boil and let it reduce, about 5 minutes.
Add enough water (or beef stock) to cover the meat with liquid again. Place on the lid, turn heat down to low and let simmer gently for about 2 hours, turning the beef occasionally. Alternatively, if you have an ovenproof pot, you can also put this in a moderate oven (325°F/160°C) for the same amount of time.
Remove the meat and set aside on a chopping board. Remove and discard bay leaves and rosemary or thyme stalks, if you used them. Then, with an immersion blender, blend the vegetables and liquid until smooth. Continue boiling the sauce over medium-high heat, uncovered, until the sauce is reduced and slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Drop in the rest of the butter and swirl it through the sauce until glossy. Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper, if necessary.
Cut the beef into 1/3 inch slices and serve with the sauce alongside fluffy mashed potatoes or creamy, soft polenta.
Note: This dish improves after a good night's rest. I like to slice the meat as described above and leave in the sauce to absorb some extra flavor, but some prefer to keep the meat whole until serving and slice later. Either way, let the brasato cool completely, then cover and refrigerate overnight (or up to three days). Then, simply reheat in the oven or stovetop before serving.