Northern Italians may have their brasato, and Tuscans their stracotto, but Romans have their own version of pot roast, which they call Garofolato. The name comes from the exuberant use of cloves—garofalo in Roman dialect (vs. chiodo di garofano in standard Italian—to scent the dish. If you ask me, this may be the tastiest Italian pot roast of all. And don’t be afraid of all the cloves, they mellow considerably in the long simmer, leaving only a pleasant fragrance.
As with a Neapolitan genovese or ragù, you get an abundant and savory sauce from a garofolato. You’ll want to nap some over your meat, but most of it can serve as a dressing for pasta— fettuccine would be a typically Roman choice—either as a first course before the roast or at a another meal.
- 1 eye round roast, or other beef cut suitable for pot roasting (see Notes), about 1.5-2 kilos (2-3 lbs)
For preparing the roast:
- 10-12 cloves
- Lardo, or some other fatty cured pork, q.b., for larding (optional—see Notes)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- A few sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
- A splash of red wine
- 2 bottles of passata di pomodoro, or 2 large cans of tomatoes passed through a food mill
- Salt and pepper
- A few more cloves (optional)
- Lard or olive oil
The roast should be studded with the cloves at even intervals all over. Use of small paring knife to create small incisions in which the cloves can be inserted. Since the round is rather dry, it helps also to lard it with some fatty cured pork (see Notes).
In terra-cotta or enamel cast iron Dutch oven not too much bigger than the roast, brown the roast all over in the lard or olive oil. When the roast in nicely brown, add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and parsley, and season everything generously with salt and pepper. Let these aromatics sauté until they are quite soft, turning the meat so that it absorbs their flavors. Then add a good splash of red wine and let it evaporate, again turning the meat so it absorbs the wine.
Add the tomato, enough to cover (or almost cover) the roast, along with a few more cloves if you like. Cover the pot and lower the heat so the liquid gently simmers. Let the roast braise until it is tender but not falling apart—this should take about 1-1/2 or 2 hours.
Taste and adjust for seasoning. Let the roast rest off heat for a few minutes, then slice as many portions as you think you’ll need, arranging the slices on a serving platter, napping some of the sauce over them. Like any braised dish, garofolato can be made ahead and reheated when you’re ready to eat.
Notes on Garofolato
The classic cut of beef for making a garofolato is the girello, which corresponds (more or less) to the eye round (for US cooks) and silverside (for those in the UK). Other cuts that Italian recipes recommend include the controgirello (top round or topside) and the girello di spalla (the ‘shoulder clod’, whatever that is…) You could also use another cut from the round, such as bottom round or the rump (scamone in Italian). But since beef slaughtering practices vary so widely from country to country, it’s hard to find equivalent cuts for cooks in other countries. While not traditional and not as pretty, a chuck roast would work just fine, in my opinion, and it’s a juicier cut to boot and needs no larding.
Since the round is a tough but lean cut, it can be a challenge to cook well. It needs long, slow cooking to become tender, but it tends to dry out, so the best option when making garofolato, if you have the patience, is to lard the meat with some fatty, cured pork. Lardo is the classic choice for Romans, but it is rather expensive delicacy outside Italy, probably too expensive for most people (including me!) to use for larding. You can resort to less expensive and more easily available Italian pork products like pancetta or guanciale; in the US you could opt for domestic products like fat back or salt pork. These are cut into thin strips, which you then insert into slits you make in the sides of the roast with a small paring knife, like so:
The process isn’t hard, but it is a bit fussy. You’ll need to open the slit a bit by poking your finger into it, then push the strip of pork into the resulting hole with your finger. Don’t worry about having a gaping hole in your roast, by some magical alchemy the roast will close around the hole as it cooks and all will be well.
Apparently in the Ciociara (basically, southern Lazio) the term garofolato can refer to a kind of lamb stew, well scented with cloves, of course. Sounds very nice but I’ve never tried it myself.