Guest Post: Not Your Grandmother’s Pot Roast

Kids, I’m in love with these guest posts!  Not only have I gotten a slew of new recipes to try out, I’m saved from having to fret about what to post come Tuesday night.  Today’s recipe comes from a college friend, Mikie, who is living across the pond in Manchester (remind me to tell you why Manchester will always have a special place in my heart one of these days).  Mikie has used one of my favorite kitchen appliances, the crock pot, to take pot roast from hmm…? to mmm!!! while you sleep.  The red wine, lots of veggies and a side of polenta make this Sunday dinner something you’ll be craving all week.  Who said there was no good food in England? You can find more of Mikie’s British adventures at

Since being invited to guest blog on Pestle Mortar I’ve been debating about which recipe to send. I have lots of favorites, and like to experiment with new ones, but I wanted to choose one that was suitably tested and perfectly delicious. I had an “ah-ha” moment this morning when I started getting out the ingredients to prep Sunday dinner. “This is it!” I thought. Why, you ask? I use a pestle and mortar in this recipe. Perfect!

When MRN and I got engaged, one of the first gifts we got was a slow cooker (née crock pot). Even though they’re perceived to be throwbacks to the 1950s (think June Cleaver and aprons), the slow cooker was actually invented in the 60s and dubbed the crock in the early 70s. I was super excited. I’d never had one, and kitchen gadgets to me are much like power tools to my husband– my own personal version of crack. But what to cook? I started with soups and stews, and then my friend MC who works in the online division of a gigunda book conglomerate gifted me with two gourmet slow cooker cookbooks. Yes, you read that correctly– gourmet. The books have recipes from all over the world– all easy to prep, fancy enough to impress company and, cooked in a slow cooker. Score!

This one is by far my favorite. One, because it’s super easy to prepare. And two, because it will blow the socks off your preconceived notion of a pot roast. Dry and tasteless no more, this baby is full of flavor, beautifully presented and perfect for a posh dinner party. Pot roast for a dinner party? Awww-yeah. And the best bit? Like butter is to French cooking, wine is to Italian (don’t worry non-wine drinkers– the alcohol cooks out and you’re left with this rich, wonderful flavor). Says author of The Gourmet Slow Cooker, Lynn Alley: “Pot roast is a big favorite throughout northern Italy, just as it is in the United States.” Who knew? The bonus? Slow cooking makes your whole house smell homey and amazing. 30 minutes of prep, 8 hours of slow cooking and voilá! Yummy goodness.

Italian Pot Roast with Polenta

  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 3 allspice berries
  • 6 black peppercorns (I usually use a bit more b/c I’m a pepper fiend; and I’ll add ground pepper to the sauce once it’s ready for the slow-cooker)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 1/2 lbs beef pot roast, trimmed of excess fat
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped (I use one large or two small onions)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced (I like more veggies, so I usually use 3 of each of the celery and carrots; you also end up with more sauce, the left-overs which you can save and use on egg pasta the next day)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup hearty dry red wine
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Combine the cinnamon, cloves, allspice and peppercorns in a mortar or coffee grinder and grind into a fine powder.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the meat and sear, turning, for 10-15 minutes, until browned on all sides (let me start by saying I hate electric stove tops. You can’t control the heat and everything heats faster. But working with what I’ve got, I cook everything on medium so it doesn’t cook too fast… tip from the electronically challenged cooker). Using tongs, transfer to the slow cooker.

Add the onion to the sauté pan and sauté, stirring frequently until soft and lightly browned (about ten minutes– the seared meat cooked previously will give your onions a nice carmelized color). Add the garlic and stir until you can smell the garlic (about a minute). Add celery and carrots and sauté for 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the spice mixture and cook for 2 minutes (the smell is intoxicating!). Add the red wine and cook reduce by about one-third (about 10 minutes). Stir in the crushed tomatoes and salt to taste. Simmer for a few minutes and then pour the sauce over the meat in the slow cooker.

Cover and cook on low for about 8 hours until the meat falls away from the bone.*

*Even though the beauty of a slow cooker is that you throw everything in and don’t have to touch it, I find that with this recipe, it’s great if you can spoon the sauce over the meat 2-3 times over the course of the 8 hours. The liquid soaks in and makes it even more succulent. Don’t worry if you can’t– it will still be delicious!

For the polenta:
You can make your own, but I buy the garden variety kind that you can find in the grocery store (Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for those in the U.S.). Just as delicious and so much easier. Follow the package instructions to cook– but I’ll usually slice and brush with a little olive oil and grill it- about 2 minutes on each side until lightly browned. You can also boil the polenta (usually in the packaging) for about 30 minutes and then mush it (that’s the technical term) with a fork until it’s a grits-like consistency.

To serve:
Once the meat is cooked and tender, remove it from the crock pot with tongs, remove the kitchen string (if it had it) and slice into 1/2-1 inch pieces (it will be tender, but don’t worry if the meat falls apart– just scoop it all back in the sauce for some savory goodness). Place the sliced roast back into the crock put and allow to simmer for 5-10 minutes. It will soak up some of the sauce and make it even more delish. Portion polenta to warmed plates and spoon pot roast and sauce over the polenta. Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.


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