"I miss the gravy," confided an often-quoted nutritionist, a public vegetarian. "So I tend to cook stew and pot roast a lot for my family."
She has a husband and two teen-age sons who are definitely not vegetarians.
"I give them all the meat, but I sneak a little gravy and put it on potatoes or pasta," she says. "The gravy has all the flavor of the meat without the meat. It's only cheating a little bit, don't you think?"
That gravy goes far to satisfy meat cravings is something our forebears need not have been told by a nutritionist. Second or even third-day gravy on biscuits was a staple of American pioneer and farm cooking.
The Italian-American long-cooked "gravy" with tomatoes and various meats is, to this day, extended by serving it on huge quantities of macaroni.
As this example shows, economy and good nutrition often walk hand in hand. There's a cost savings, as well as a cholesterol and fat savings, in serving less meat -- and more gravy -- to be sopped up by potatoes, bread, pasta or rice, the high-carbohydrate foods that nutritionists urge us to eat.
The following recipe, with thick, richly flavored gravy, is meant to serve four for two nights -- a total of eight servings.
The amount of meat used is often cooked for half as many eaters.
The gravy comes from an old-fashioned method. Whereas a traditional beef stew would be thickened with flour, which browns with the meat and gives the gravy rich color, the pot roast gravy is thickened with the pureed diced vegetables that cook with it and flavor it.
Two-night Pot Roast
Browning the roast under the broiler not only saves a few calories that come purely from fat, it gives the sauce color and the big, caramelized beef flavor of a grilled steak. This recipe serves four.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 -inch thick slice beef shoulder (about 2 pounds)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups finely chopped carrots
1 1/2 cups finely chopped celery
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 medium bay leaves
1 (14 to 16-ounce) can tomatoes
Salt and pepper
For the first night (for 4):
4 very large baking potatoes
For the second night (for 4):
4 1 pound tubular macaroni (such as ziti or penne)
Brown the meat under the broiler: Place it on a broiler rack about seven-inches from the heat.
Broil until well-browned, about eight minutes. Turn and brown the other side, another seven or eight minutes.
Place the browned meat in a shallow baking dish (a Pyrex or enameled pan is perfect). Tilt the broiler pan so the juice and fat run into a corner and spoon off the fat.
Discard fat. Add a few tablespoons of water to the pan and scrape up any browned bits. Pour these juices over the meat.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, carrots and celery together until tender, about ten minutes. Add the garlic and saute one more minute.
Lift up the meat and tuck a bay leaf and about half the vegetables under it. Place the other bay leaf and the remaining vegetables over it and around it.
Pour the chopped tomatoes over and around the meat. Cover snugly with foil and place in a preheated, 350-degree oven for about two hours, until meat is very tender.
Check with a fork after 1 1/2 hours.
When the meat is tender, scrape the vegetables off the surface and remove meat to a platter.
Pour all the juices and vegetables into a large bowl. Allow fat to surface, then skim. (Or, refrigerate meat, wrapped closely in plastic; refrigerate vegetables and juices, then remove hardened fat.)
(Freeze at this point, if desired. Thaw to cold room temperature to continue.)
In a blender, puree about half the vegetables and juices. Mix the puree with the remaining vegetables.
For the first night, slice about two-thirds to three-quarters of the meat one-quarter-inch thick and reheat, with half the sauce -- in the oven, on top of the stove, or in a microwave.
Serve meat on the side of the potato, sauce on top, with large portions of salad or green vegetables.
For the second night, cut the remaining meat into one-quarter-inch cubes and simmer about 20 minutes in the sauce, adding, if desired, a little canned or packaged tomato puree and re-seasoning with red pepper flakes (or other hot pepper). Serve on macaroni.