We just recently rented Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and I'm not going to comment on the quality of the movie itself, but in one scene Angelina serves up an utterly horrid-looking, potentially poisonsous pot roast. Growing up, I was never a big fan of pot roast, and that desiccated hunk of meat garnished with withered carrots and onions near-to gave me flashbacks.
On the other hand, I love comfort foods, and I generally love cheap cuts of meat done up low and slow, so I'm always on the lookout for pot roast alternatives. Manzo alla California is beef braised with cream. The beef is kept moist by poking it with a knife all about and stuffing in little bits of pancetta, and the pot is deglazed with vinegar before you add the cream to it, which keeps it from being cloyingly rich and creamy.
By the way, the California in this recipe apparently refers to farm country in Lombardy, Italy, and not the West Coast state. I served it with polenta, and I would've served it with braised greens if I had remembered to actually grab the greens when I was out shopping; we had to settle for a green salad instead.
Manzo alla California
From Italian Slow and Savory, by Joyce Goldstein
1 slice pancetta, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 rump or top round roast of beef, 2 1/2 to 3 lbs.
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tb unsalted butter
2 TB olive oil
1 yellow onion, quartered and each quarter studded with 2 whole cloves
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Freshly ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1 cup heavy cream
1. Make small slits all over the surface of the meat and insert the pancetta pieces into the slits.
2. Using kitchen twine, tie the roast into a compact shape (if your butcher hasn't already). Salt and pepper the roast, then dust it on all sides with the flour, shaking off the excess.
3. In a Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a lid, melt the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until browned. Using a slotted spoon, remove the onion from the pan. Add the roast to the onion-scented butter and brown on all sides.
4. Spoon out the excess fat from the pan. Add the vinegar and a generous shake of nutmeg and cook over medium heat until the vinegar has evaporated. Pour in the stock and 1/2 cup of cream. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat to very low (but not too low, unless you want to be cooking it all day), cover, and simmer until the beef is very tender, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
5. Transfer the meat to a carving board and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Add the remaining 1/2 cup cream to the pan and cook over high heat until the sauce is reduced by half. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Slice the roast and serve hot, with the sauce spooned over the top.
Note: I added chopped Italian parsley to the sauce, because I think it makes almost any sauce better. You can also cook the roast in a covered pot in the oven at 300°F for 2 1/2 hours.