Comfort food may be hard to define, but we all know it when we taste it.
Merriam-Webster says it’s “food that is satisfying because it is prepared in a simple or traditional way and reminds you of home, family, or friends.” Well, my mom prepared carrot sticks, but that’s certainly not high on my list when I need a little TLC from my food.
No, I want fried chicken, chocolate cake or cheesy enchiladas. Give me a fat, juicy hamburger with a side of truffle fries or my favorite, cheese grits. What exactly makes those comfort foods? And why, oh why do they have to contain so many calories??
Turns out it’s the fat. When fatty acids are delivered to the stomach from that big bowl of Ben and Jerry’s, our mood actually lifts, stress-levels decrease and we feel less depressed. This happens in experiments even with the fat is delivered directly into the stomach.
When we were in Italy years ago, John was a pre-adolescent with an amazingly adventurous appetite. Wherever we were, he -at 12 years old- scoured the menu and ordered the most exotic dish on it. Cinghiale or wild boar, cuttle fish and “squid in its own ink” all made it onto our Italian table that summer. One night we stayed at a strange, old villa hidden on a mountainside northeast of Naples. As far as I could tell, we were the only guests in the rambling hotel (which was a little creepy) and, when we sat down for dinner, had the whole restaurant to ourselves. The menu was extensive and young John ordered the cavallo or horsemeat smothered in gravy. He promptly devoured every bit, so it must have been good, and it certainly looked delicious.
Now I’m not sure if cavallo in gravy is on your list of comfort foods -unless your mother is Italian- but this beef roast should be. The recipe checks both boxes: It’s reminiscent of the traditional roast your mom made, with the addition of celery and tomatoes for a light, Italian twist. And the beef sends just enough fatty acids to your tummy to make you smile. Oh, and it tastes just like that cinghiale stew John had 15 years ago in Rome.
You don’t really need a recipe for this dish, so be like Mom and just throw in what sounds good. Like garlic? Add a couple extra cloves. Have some oregano in your garden? Great! Don’t measure the wine, just pour and estimate. Simply know that the celery and tomato give this roast it’s distinctive Italian taste.
Pair it with Gorgonzola Polenta for hearty, comforting winter dinner which just happens to be gluten free.
- 1 beef pot roast, about 4 pounds
- 6 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 ounces pancetta, chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup red wine
- 3 cups chopped onions
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 celery stalk, sliced
- 2 cups beef stock
- 2 cups tomato puree
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large, heavy pot, heat the olive oil, then brown the roast on all sides (about 10 minutes). Season with salt and pepper, remove it from the pot and place it to the side on a large plate.
- Cook the pancetta in the pot over medium heat until it is crispy.
- Add the chopped garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to ensure it doesn't burn.
- Add the wine to the pot and cook until most of the moisture has evaporated, about 2 minutes.
- Add the onions, carrots, celery, stock and puree and stir well, then return meat to the pot. Cover and bring to a simmer.
- Reduce the heat to low and cook until the beef is tender, 3 hours or more.
- Before serving, transfer the beef to a plate.
- Remove the vegetables from the pot and place in a food processor or blender. Process until smooth, then return them to the pot.
- At this point, season with salt and pepper to taste and add more broth if the sauce is too thick.
- Place the meat to the pot and keep warm until serving.