Growing up in the 50s and 60s, roasts were a common dinner selection for most moms. They certainly were easy. All you had to do was throw them in the oven and not think about them for a few hours. Well, at least that’s how my mom cooked a roast. Oh yes, she’d throw some wine in the pan, and maybe an onion or a cut up carrot, but that roast never saw the light of day until it was cooked…..and cooked….and cooked. This isn’t Sunday gravy, mom! It doesn’t get better the longer you cook it! I never saw a meat thermometer in her kitchen until well into the 80s. Oh yes, I bought it for her. I am just about positive that she never used it.
I can still see that slice of eye round, dark grey as the night, staring right back at me from my dinner plate, defying me to try to cut it. At least when I ate dinner at my friends’ houses, they put something called “gravy” on it. This brown gravy sure was nothing like our gravy, but it certainly helped give this dry meat some flavor. As I’m writing this, I’m starting to wonder if the meat thermometer was even invented in the 1950s. Let me Google it and get right back to you…..
Sorry about that. So it appears that all meat was served cooked to death ( for health reasons) until the early 1930s, when the thermometer was introduced, as well as serving meat rare. I guess we were a little behind the times. There was one saving grace, however. We very rarely had roasts for dinner. Until the veal roast made it’s way into her repertoire. When she made this on Sundays or a holiday (EVERY Holiday) for our large extended family, it was always delicious. But when she made a smaller veal roast for us during the week, it was awful. As you will see from her very tattered and over-used original recipe, she would cook a 6 pound veal roast for 2 ½ hrs. Perfect! However, when she cooked a 3 pound veal roast, she also cooked it for 2 ½ hours! Herein lied the problem. All roasts, no matter what size, were cooked for over 2 hours! How do I know this to be true? Well if you look at my typewritten recipe card (this is what young brides did in the early 1970s) for veal roast, which I copied verbatim from my mother, there is no roast size. We just cook that roast for 2 ½ hours, no matter what the size! And I did for many years, always with disastrous results. Until one Sunday in 1981, I came across a recipe for a veal roast in The New York Times Magazine. (Just to be clear and unpretentious, I had a four year old daughter and a one year old son at this time so I really only scoured The Times for recipes. As I’ve said before, I’m a recipe junky.) And this recipe by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey (two masters) was a winner. When the air gets nippy in the Fall, and I start to gear up with winter recipes (many roasts among them…..not from my mother), I always pull this one out to the delight of all. I add a little more tomatoes than their recipe calls for so that I have a rich, delicious sauce to put over egg noodles or fettuccine. This makes for a wonderful side dish. Mr. Claiborne and Mr. Franey may have given this recipe a fancy French name ( which I can’t even make out anymore due to the age and overuse of this recipe), but honestly, when you bite into this succulent meat with the noodles (or fettuccine) dripping in this lovely, reddish sauce, you will think of Bolognese sauce (you can find that recipe in the archives as well). Now that’s what I call a roast with gravy.
RECIPE: four to six servings
1 two-and-one-half pound tied veal roast
Salt ( I use Kosher) and freshly ground pepper
2 TBSP butter (add more if needed during browning)
¾ to 1 cup finely cubed carrots
¾ cup finely diced onion
1 whole garlic clove, peeled ( I mince it)
2 to 4 sprigs fresh rosemary or 2 tsp. dry
½ cup of dry white wine.
1 cup ( I use almost 2 cups) diced canned Italian plum tomatoes ( or squished).
2 sprigs fresh parsley, optional
- Sprinkle the veal with salt and pepper to taste.
- Heat the butter in a heavy casserole in which the veal fits snugly, but without crowding. Add the veal and brown it on all sides over moderate heat, about 10 or 15 minutes, turning often.
- Add the carrots, onion, garlic and rosemary. Stir the vegetables around in the bottom. Add the wine, tomatoes and parsley. Cover and let cook over low heat about one and one-quarter hours. Turn the meat.
- Uncover and cook about another 15 minutes.