Italian Pot Roast with Polenta, also called Stracatto, is simmered in vegetables, herbs and tomatoes and served over creamy, cheesy polenta.
My Italian pot roast is a beautiful cut of beef simmered in tomatoes, herbs and soffritto (onions, carrots, and celery sautéed in olive oil) until it’s just barely holding itself together. I serve it over creamy and cheesy polenta and pour the rich cooking liquid all over everything. Then everyone makes those weird eating noises that people make when they really like something. You know the ones. Listen, this meal might not make The Boy completely forget about his mother’s cooking, but it just may give him temporary amnesia.
A little side note: We are an alcohol free household. Traditionally, Italian Pot Roast, and most slow braised beef recipes call for red wine. I capture that full rich flavor with beef broth and red wine vinegar. You can substitute those ingredients with red wine if you’d like, but I’ve had both versions and can’t tell the difference.
- 3-4 lb chuck roast, generously seasoned on all sides with salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced small
- 1 carrot, diced small
- 2 stalks of celery, diced small (sensing a trend here?)
- 2 cloves of finely minced garlic
- 1/4 cup basil leaves, roughly chopped
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 1 28 oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes (they’re so much sweeter and well worth the extra 50 cents or so)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste (I found a great one in a tube that also has basil infused in the paste. Regular is fine 😉)
- 1 cup of beef broth
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Second Round of Vegetables
- 1 large onion cut in eight wedges
- 2 large carrots, cut in chunks (these will be cooking a long time. Larger chunks mean less mushy carrot)
- 3 stalks of celery, cut in chunks (see above)
- 1 cup of small tomatoes (I used grape)
Creamy, Cheesy Polenta
- 4 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup polenta
- 1 tsp salt
- 2-3 tbsp heavy cream
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Making the Pot Roast
- Spray the inside of your slow cooker with non-stick spray and have it ready to go. Before doing anything else, I always recommend doing your mise en place (en français). That's fancy French chef talk for chopping everything and having it all measured and ready to go before starting to cook. No more looking for something and realizing that you don't have it or that it's not ready to go, just do what the French chefs say and put "everything in place" before you start the cooking.
- Using a heavy pan, like cast iron or stainless steel, sear all sides of your roast over high heat. Really get a good sear on all the sides. Don't be afraid that you'll overcook it. This is a BIG piece of meat. Place roast in the bottom of your slow cooker, fat side up.
- In the same pan as you seared your roast, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat to medium high. Sauté your vegetables until they begin to soften and get a little color. Add your garlic and sauté another minute. Throw in your thyme, rosemary, and basil and give it a stir. We're using the same pan because we want to keep all those meaty flavors to ourselves. We want the veggies and the meat to be madly in love by the end of this recipe!
- In a medium bowl combine your tomatoes, beef broth, tomato paste and red wine vinegar. Using your hands (with gloves, if you want) really squish up those tomatoes and mix everything together. You might be thinking you could have just bought crushed tomatoes. Yeah, you could, but whole San Marzano tomatoes are just peeled tomatoes and juice. Very often crushed tomatoes are a mixture of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce or purée, and not as good quality or flavor. Trust me on this. I wouldn't steer you wrong. Now pour the tomato mixture all around your roast. Mmm. Already smelling good isn't it?
- Finally take all your large chunked vegetables and place them all around your roast. Toss those baby tomatoes right on top. Put on the lid, set it to low and walk away for 8-10 hours. Go to work. Go see a double feature. Take 2 naps. When you come back, it will look like this! And you will be so happy!
Finishing Up and Making Polenta
- Turn your slow cooker on warm. Carefully, maybe with the help of a friend, pour the cooking liquid into a medium saucepan. You can leave a bit of the liquid in there with the meat if you want, but just pop the lid back on and the vegetables will help keep the meat moist anyway. Bring the cooking liquid to a simmer, turn to low and let it reduce a bit while you make some polenta.
- Polenta looks and sounds difficult to make, but it really isn't. If you Google polenta (don't) a lot of people will tell you that it takes 40 minutes of constant stirring, blah blah blah. Relax. There is a lot of stirring, but it's only about 15 minutes and it's super simple. Start by boiling the water with the salt. Once it's boiling, use a whisk to make a little whirlpool action in the water and slowly pour in your polenta. Keep whisking until it's all in and there are no lumps. Turn the heat to medium and stir with a wooden spoon every minute or so to make sure it isn't sticking to the bottom.
- The polenta will get nice and thick. Give it a careful taste (it's hot). If it feels smooth in your mouth (mouth feel!), it's done. Take it off the heat and add your heavy cream and cheese. Stir it up and serve on a warm plate. Top the polenta with your unbelievably tender pot roast and vegetables, and pour the reduced cooking liquid all over. You are going to cry. It's that good. I haven't served this to my Mother-In-Law yet, but The Boy sure loved it! Success!