Italian Pot Roast Is the Bolognese Alternative You Need in Your Life
Laurel Evans shares a recipe from an overlooked Italian culinary region that can be eaten alone or served over pasta
When the names of most simple foods that Americans turn to for comfort are translated into Italian, they actually end up sounding substantially more exotic as well as appetizing. Consider:
Pot roast: Polpettone
Mashed potatoes: Purè di patate
Okay, so maybe it doesn’t work with Hawaii’s favorite tinned offering of pork shoulder, water, salt, sugar and sodium nitrate, but it does with Italian cookbook author Laurel Evans’s mother-in-law’s preferred mix of chuck roast, minced vegetables and beef broth — aka pot roast.
Referred to as tócco (that’s TO-ko) in the region of Liguria (which technically means “chunk” or “piece” in local dialect), Italian pot roast is made in different ways in different locations. In the oft-overlooked culinary region of Liguria, which is the inspiration for Evans’s Liguria, The Cookbook, the slow-cooked dish is bathed in aromatics and wine until tender. Sliced thin and served as a second course, the roast also produces a tasty sauce that can be used to dress ravioli or other pasta dishes, Evans — a Texan who’s married to a Liguria native and lives in the region — tells InsideHook.
“Liguria is very waste-conscious as a region, so it has a lot of recipes that have many different functions and this is a classic example. It’s a one-stop shop for the whole dinner,” she says. “The meat can be used as a filling for ravioli, as standalone second course or you can chop it up and use it in a million different recipes while the sauce is used for something else. Meat in Ligurian cuisine is very precious because there was very little of it. When they got their hands on a big piece of meat, they really put it to use. This is a perfect example of how they’d do that.”
Based on conversations with her mother-in-law and members of her husband’s extended family and a good deal of tinkering in the kitchen, Evans was able to come up with her own variation on traditional Ligurian tócco.
“I wanted a big piece of meat and a tomato-based sauce. In addition to celery, onions and carrots, I added porcini mushrooms to really amp up the umami flavors that Liguria is famous for. Also bay leaf,” she says. “I think those little additions really make it have a different flavor than you’re used to in a pot roast. It’s really, really soft, to where it’s almost falling apart when you slice it. The sauce develops a rich, deep, flavor that infuses with the meat. It’s a win-win. The sauce gets flavor from the meat, the meat gets flavor from the sauce and the consistency just gets better as time goes by.”
Ecco la ricetta. That’s Italian for “Here’s the recipe.”
Laurel Evans’s Tócco Roast and Sauce
- ⅓ oz dried porcini mushrooms
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ pounds of chuck roast
- 1 large stalk of celery, finely minced
- 1 medium onion, finely minced or grated
- 2 large carrots, finely minced or grated
- ¾ cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup beef broth, or more as needed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig of rosemary, tied with kitchen twine
- 5 sage leaves
- Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with hot water.
- Set aside to rehydrate for 30 minutes.
- Strain and finely chop the mushrooms; reserve ½ cup soaking liquid.
- Heat the olive oil in a stockpot or earthenware cooking pot over medium heat.
- Add the meat and cook, turning occasionally, until well browned all over, about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Season meat all over with ¼ teaspoon of salt, lower heat and add minced vegetables.
- Sauté, stirring often, until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
- Add mushrooms, the mushroom soaking liquid, wine, ½ teaspoon salt, and tomato paste; bring to a boil.
- Add broth, bay leaf, rosemary, sage and bring to a boil over medium heat.
- Lower heat to maintain a slow simmer, cover tightly, and cook for at least 3 hours, turning the meat every 30 minutes or so. If the liquid evaporates and the meat begins to stick, add a splash of water or broth occasionally to retain some sauce. The meat should be tender enough to break apart easily with a fork.
- Remove roast from the pot and slice thinly to serve, or set aside for another use (such as filling for a ravioli).
- Discard bay leaf and rosemary.
- Taste sauce and add more salt if necessary. If it is too watery, reduce it over medium-high heat until desired consistency is reached.
- Recipes serves six. Use sauce to dress pasta like Picagge Verdi or Ravioli di Carne con Tócco.
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