Portland is in the midst of perfect autumn weather. The days are bright, clear, and crisp. The air is chilly, but I can still feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. To fully embrace the season, this week I made a pot roast. I don’t have a tried-and-true recipe that I always use for roast. In my opinion, if you cook it slowly enough, it’s almost guaranteed to be delicious. That said, when I’m making an old-fashioned standard I typically consult my Fannie Farmer Cookbook. It’s sort of the opposite of the healthy, gluten free blogs and cookbooks I look through nowadays, but I love it for just that reason. It gets me back to basics and reveals the fundamental aspects of a dish. Then when I go recipe hunting I keep in mind those two or three steps and ingredients that feel essential.
The variations on pot roast are endless, but I settled on this recipe because I love fennel and it uses a simple, one-pot approach. Braising fennel is my favorite preparation because it brings out the natural sweetness and manages to make this otherwise tough vegetable tender. I had a bunch of shallots leftover from another dish, so I substituted shallots for the onion. I also love parsnips and figured that adding one to the carrots couldn’t hurt. Other than those minor modifications, I followed the recipe and was very pleased with the results. This isn’t a fork-tender recipe; it’s meant to be sliced. If you want fork-tender just let it roast for another 30 minutes to an hour. If you want some of the carrots to stay a little firm you can add extra during the last hour of cooking. I serve mine with some Dijon mustard because the tanginess cuts through the richness of the meat. (A note on celiac and mustard: mustard seed is safe, but mustard flour is not. Be sure to check your mustard’s recipe label so you know it’s safe. Also, you can often substitute prepared mustards for mustard flour in recipes. It just takes a little creativity.)
I paired this dish with simple mashed potatoes and a butternut squash puree, to use up some leftover butternut squash I had in the fridge. I would definitely make the puree again, and liked the seasonal element it added to this dish. I also made a simple green salad, brightened with some watermelon radish.
This pot roast was my excuse to pull out my big, heavy, cast-iron pot and I fell in love with it all over again. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to invest in some cast-iron. I love my enameled Dutch oven, but with cast iron I don’t have to worry about maximum high temperatures. It’s durable, it distributes heat evenly, and it makes a darn good pot roast.