Monday, November 22, 2010

Tuscan Style Pot Roast : A Ski Bum's Dinner


Fall has ended here in Western Montana. Boom. Done. Kaput. Finito!!!

Last Wednesday a cold wind blew the last of the leaves away and fleece jackets were traded for down ones. Stylish sportster caps were traded for knit woollies with ear flaps. Anklets and running shoes were traded for thick Smartwools and winter boots. The snow began to fall in white waves, dusting, melting, dusting again, and now, staying put. Big flakes are flying this very moment, and the view from my office looks like a freshly shaken snow globe. The heat of summer is so fresh on my skin, it's hard to believe our highs this week are in the single digit range.

The ski areas are set to open right on schedule, and that makes me a very happy girl. Skiing is what brought me to this state 15 years ago. Oh, that and college ; )  It's also what overlapped my path and Noah's. I met him on a weekend trip to Big Sky. He was a lift operator there, and a snowboarder. He had long hair like The Black Stallion, and it was love at first sight.

As soon as we started dating, Noah got me into snowboarding, and I haven't really been skiing since. Maybe once a season, but I fell as madly in love with the sensation of surfing through deep, cold smoke powder, as I did with Noah.


That's me after doing some backcountry riding in Rogers Pass, B.C., New Years Day 2008

 I've been a knuckle dragging shred betty for the 14 years we've been together. Now, in keeping with what has become our, "Life Under Renovation," all that is about to change. Noah and I are switching to skis.

Non-skier/snowboarder types might miss the significance of this transition, but to us, and to our clan of Montana snow bums, this is BIG. By no means am I abandoning my beloved snow stick, but all I can say is that I haven't been this excited to hit the slopes, well, since the heli ski industry stole my favorite riding buddy 5 years ago. See, Noah had this dream to be a heli ski pilot in the Chugach Mountains of Alaska. These were the mountains we watched in ski movies, back when he was bumping chairs in Big Sky. It was a good dream, and he did it for about 4 ski seasons in a row, collecting some of the most spectacular memories a person can claim.

Noah flying the A-Star in Alaska's Chugach Range.
Note**: In case you have no idea what heli skiing is, he dropped skiers off on the tops of those mountains, and picked them up after they had skied to the bottom.

The only problem-- nay, 2 problems: 1) We had to endure 3 solid months  and most of the ski season apart, and 2) The pilot doesn't get to ski!!!!!

Okay, maybe he got to ski a little. There's Noah in the yellow circle, coming down the backside of the Mendenhall Towers. Juneau, AK.

That's Noah, and that's why I love him, but I am very glad he's back now. We have remodeled our set-up for our new life, and some new two-plank adventures.

Any night now, I will have the first of the season's snow dreams. The kind where I can do anything, huck any cliff, rip any chute, thread my way trough perfectly spaced trees, the snow falling in glittery clouds as I pass. Flying, floating, on bottomless powder with a face full of snow, headphones blasting Beastie Boys. I'm giddy just thinking about it. I wonder though, will my first snow dream of the season find me on one plank, or two?

***************************
Mmmmm.... On to winter food. Ski food. Warming-up-after-a-day-in-the-snow food. This pot roast uses lots of flavor and slow braising to turn a cheaper cut of beef into a luxurious supper.

Tuscan Style Pot Roast
(4 to 6 servings)
Adapted from a recipe for Italian Pot Roast or "Stracotto" in The Joy of Cooking. I used their technique of piercing holes in the roast and stuffing with a fresh herb paste to infuse the meat with flavor. I also added complexity with some aromatic spices in the tomato-based braising liquid. Many Italian Pot Roast recipes mention that it is almost always served with polenta, but I couldn't resist the tender bite of some long linguine pasta paired with the meaty-rich tomato sauce. For an ultra-nutritious and lower-carb option, try serving over roasted spaghetti squash.

P.S.- The leftovers make great oven-toasted sandwiches. Split open a soft hoagie or kaiser roll, top one half with some of the sliced roast, and a bit of the tomato sauce. Top the other half with sliced mozzarella or provolone. Place open-faced on a baking sheet, on middle rack of oven, under the broiler until heated through and cheese is bubbling. Toss in a handful of chopped fresh arugula or spinach if you like. 
  
2 1/2 to 3 pound chuck roast
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly cracked pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
1/4 cup water
A dash or two of ground cinnamon
A dash or two of ground clove
A dash or two of ground allspice
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 - 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes

Using the garlic, and fresh herbs, either make a paste using a mortar and pestle, or very finely mince. Using a small paring knife, make about a dozen deep slits in the roast, and stuff with  about half of the herb mixture, setting the rest aside for later use. If necessary, wipe excess herbs from surface of roast with a paper towel, so they don't scorch when you brown the roast. Sprinkle the roast on all sides with 1 tsp. kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper.

Heat a medium (5-quart), non-reactive dutch oven with a tight fitting lid, over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to pan, and once heated, add the roast. Sear the roast until well-browned on all sides, monitoring the heat so that a nice brown crust (i.e. fond) forms in the pan without scorching. This may take up to 20 minutes.
See that nice brown crust both on the roast, and in the pot?
I'm rather fond of "fond."

Once browned, remove roast from pan, and set aside. Immediately add chopped onion, carrot, celery, and water. If you have some, sliced mushrooms would also make a nice addition. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to scrape any browned bits from bottom of pan. Saute until vegetables are very soft, 7 to 10 minutes.

Add ground spices, red wine, and tomato paste. Bring to a simmer and let bubble until liquid is reduced by half. Add crushed tomatoes and remaining fresh herb paste, and stir to combine. Nestle the roast into the sauce, spooning some of the liquid on top of roast. Bring to a simmer, and reduce heat to lowest setting possible while still maintaining a low and slow simmer.

For a small roast like this, it's best to flip the meat about every 20 to 25 minutes. I used to think pot roast was done when the meat shredded easily with a fork, but by that point, the meat is not only stringy, but dry. The meat will be tender and more juicy if it is not cooked to the "shred" stage. A roast this size may be done in as little as 1 1/2 hours, but may take up to 2 1/2, so give yourself some leeway with dinnertime. The Joy of Cooking recommends testing for doneness by slicing 2 small pieces from end of roast. If the inner slice is firm-tender and a bit moist, the roast is done. There may even be some pink in the center of the roast.

If necessary, skim fat from top of cooking liquid once the roast is done. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove the roast from the liquid, slice across the grain, 1/4-inch thick, and serve with polenta, potatoes, or pasta, and generous scoops of the sauce. A simple green salad and the rest of the red wine make lovely accompaniments to this soul-warming meal.

Here's us at the beach, on a little island outside of Cordova, on one of my visits to heli ski "man camp".


3 comments:

Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks said...

Gorgeous pics of Alaska - I've only been there in the summer. I'm not into the snowboard/ski thing despite living in Colorado. I'd rather be snowshoeing - something our ski bum buds liken to amateur snow play.

Enjoy your winter fun and comfort food.

Food-G said...

Thanks Andrea. And hey, whether you're shredding the Chugach or snowshoeing at your local golf course, the important thing is that you're getting outside and enjoying the snow!

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