A not-so-scary Veal Roast Alla Cacciatore

A roast can be a scary thing. It's quite intimidating, actually. This enormous hunk of meat is expecting you to flavour it and cook it to perfection. It's quite a daunting task, really. I'm always afraid that I have no control over a roast,like it just has a mind of its own. There's shrinkage (no Seinfeld pun intended), loss of valuable juices, toughening, netting unraveling, etc. The things that can go wrong are endless, and I sometimes feel that roasts purposely want to disgrace me as a cook by rebelling. But, not this time folks. This time, I came out victorious. I will admit though, some merit is warranted to the roast itself; as soon as I tore away the plastic wrap and lifted it off the little styrofoam tray, I knew I was dealing with a beautiful piece of meat. So I made sure to take good care of it, and preserve its tenderness the best I can.

The KEY to cooking any roast is a meat thermometer. I believe they are an essential kitchen tool.

This recipe was easy and DELICIOUS, so naturally, I have to share the love!

Veal Cacciatore courtesy of Epicurious.com

2/3 cup dry white wine
3/4 oz package dried porcini mushrooms
1 boneless veal shoulder roast
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1/4 pound sliced pancetta, chopped *I used bacon
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice
rosemary sprigs *I just throw in as many as I feel like

bay leaves *Again, as many as you like
1/3 cup small brine-cured black olives such as Ni├žoise *I didn't have Nicoise, I used Infornate olives, I let them soak in water all day to remove some of the saltiness

Preheat oven to 325F with the rack in the middle.

1) Bring the wine to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add the porcini mushrooms, remove from heat and allow them to soak in wine.

2) Make sure veal is nicely wrapped in kitchen string (mine was falling apart at one end, so I secured it with some additional string). Season roast with salt and pepper. I also took rosemary spring and pushed them through some little gaps in the meat, for some additional flavour. Heat half the oil in a pan over medium-high heat, brown the roast on all sides, ensuring not to burn it. Transfer roast to a plate, and keep the juices/fat.

3) In a dutch oven, or large cast iron or enamel pot with a lid, add the reserved juices and the rest of the olive oil (add more oil if you like, enough to cover the whole bottom of the pot). Add pancetta/bacon and cook ever medium heat until browned. Add onions and saute until transparent (lower heat if they start to burn).

4) Strain the mushrooms and coarsely chop them, add them to the pot. Add the carrots, celery and garlic. Saute until vegetables are soft. Add wine from mushrooms, simmer until half has evaporated.

5) Coarsely chop the canned tomatoes and add to pot, with some of the juice (add as much as you like, depending on how liquidy you want it). Add olives. Add some rosemary and bay leaves. Simmer for about 15 minutes.

6) Put lid on and put in oven. Depending on the weight of the roast, cooking time will vary. It's approximately 35-40 minutes per pound, but the real test of doneness is the internal temperature. Follow the temperature on your meat thermometer, according to how done you like your meat. I cooked mine to well done, and it was as tender as ever. Turn roast over in pot every half hour or so.
7) When the roast is done, allow to rest in pot for 15-20 minutes before carving.
I served this with some soft polenta. It was absolutely delicious: a mound of polenta topped with the cacciatore stew, next to 2 thin slices of tender veal. It was reminiscent of cold, winter nights at my grandmother's house. Fragrant, comforting, warm. The Infornate olives were really the key to this dish for me; they donate the perfect, salty balance.
One of the greatest peasant meals you'll eat.
Enjoy the simplicity of this meal.

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