My grandmother, my Nonnie, makes a wonderful pot roast. So good is her pot roast that she clandestinely prepares it in her home kitchen and sneaks it into a bay area restaurant where it is then served to their very happy patrons. “Nonnie’s Pot Roast” it’s called on the menu and I’m proud to say that the “Nonnie” on the menu isn’t some imaginary Italian grandma, she is my Nonnie and she’s a damn good cook—though we’re not actually Italian.
When my friend Amanda needed a pick me up—and don’t we all know that sometimes the only think that can really pick you up is a good home-cooked meal—I decided to make my Nonnie’s pot roast. As it turns out, pot roast is one of Amanda’s favorite childhood meals, and I think she was smitten. Pot roast might not be the prettiest or the most elegant of dishes, but it will certainly warm your soul, and some days that counts for a lot.
Nonnie’s Italian-Style Pot Roast
2 lbs chuck roast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 – 8 oz can chopped tomatoes
3 – 4 large carrots, cut into chunks (or a handful of baby carrots)
1/2 cup red wine
2 – 3 cups beef broth (enough to nearly cover the meat)
salt and pepper
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
2 lbs yellow potatoes (I like Yukon Golds)
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 – 1/2 cup buttermilk
salt and pepper
Preheat an oven to 325 degrees. Season the chuck roast liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. In a large cast iron pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the meat. Sear both sides, until deep brown in color about 8 – 10 minutes per side. Remove the meat and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Saute the onions in the meat juices until translucent, 6 – 8 minutes. Add the garlic and saute a two minutes more. Add the wine to deglaze, making sure to scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Return the meat to the pan. Add the bay leaves, tomatoes, carrots and broth. Return to a boil.
If you’re making the roast on a weeknight, you can make the pot roast up to this point and refrigerate it then finish it in the oven the next day. Or you can cook it for a few additional hours until you’re ready for bed and then finish it for another hour or so the next day. It will need about 3 hours braising time in a low oven to become perfectly tender, and will happily adjust to whatever schedule suits you.
Cover the pot with a lid and place in a 325 degree oven. Cook for 3 hours, until the meat is tender. When you have about 1 hour left on the cooking time, start the mashed potatoes.
Peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters. Put them in a large pot and cover with water. Season the water liberally. It should taste like sea water. Cover and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook potatoes 25 – 35 minutes, until fork-tender. Drain the water. Add the butter and beat the potatoes with a mixer or mash with a potato masher. Add the buttermilk and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Potatoes generally need a lot of salt to taste good – keep this in mind while seasoning your potatoes.
Remove the pot roast, carrots and bay leaves from the braising liquid and set aside. Use a blender or immersion blender to puree the braising liquid. It should turn into a thick tomatoey gravy. Season the gravy with salt and pepper, if needed. Slice the pot roast into thin slices.
Mound mashed potatoes on a plate. Top with slices of pot roast and carrots. Pour the gravy over the meat and potatoes. Bring some gravy to the table. Enjoy!