What Is Italian Arrosto And How Is It Cooked?

Arrosto is a term beloved by aficionados of Italian cuisine. Although generally used to refer to roast meat — arrosto literally translates to roast — it can also be used for other oven-baked specialties. Penne con peperoni arrosto, for example, is an Italian dish made from roasted red bell peppers. Most uses of arrosto in Italian cuisine, however, are meat related, in keeping with arrosto's traditional role as a centerpiece for long Sunday lunches (referred to in Italian as il pranzo della domenica). Although the popularity of the family-oriented, one-day-a-week feast has declined in recent years, these traditional repasts are still enjoyed in many Italian homes and trattorias.

A typical Sunday lunch features several menu items — including a veritable who's who of Italian menu favorites such as meatballs, gnocchi, tagliatelle, and lasagna — with a roasted meat dish accompanied by potatoes serving as the main course. There are a variety of meat dishes associated with this mid-day feast in Italy, including arrosto di manzo (roast beef), arrosto all'arancia (pork roast), and arrosto di vitello (roast veal). But, although the meats and seasonings vary from recipe to recipe and region to region, the cooking techniques used for traditional Sunday lunch style arrosto have mostly remained the same.

Making arrosto for a traditional Italian style Sunday lunch

Salt rubs, often favored for steaks, are not recommended for arrosto style roast meats. Instead, the Italian method is to prep the meat of choice with a mix of garlic, olive oil, and rosemary. Then, before the meat is put in the oven, it should be pan-seared in oil on all available surfaces. This step was traditionally thought to help the dish retain its juices, but in more modern times it has been recognized as an essential step in achieving the Maillard reaction, a chemical process that changes both the color and flavor of food via non-enzymatic browning, but only at temperatures above 285 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the actual roasting that gives arrosto its name, there are a number of important factors at play. The typical cooking time and temperature for a 2-pound roast is about 45 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Some Italians favor a steam oven, which unlike the initial searing, actually does help to keep the roast as moist and juicy as possible. Potatoes, roast meat's traditional Sunday lunch companions, should not go into the oven until the roast is nearly done. In the meantime, baste the meat every few minutes with its own drippings.

These are the basic steps for a roast worthy of any Italian style Sunday lunch. For a more authentic experience, remember two other key components: make plenty of other dishes and include as many family members in the preparation as possible.