My mom, Angel, has always been the best cook in the neighborhood and everybody knew it. In the 1970s and '80s, when most of my friends were eating fast food and processed junk, all the kids wanted to come to my house for dinner. (We weren't going to go to the neighbors' houses to eat TV dinners.) This is one of the meals Mom would fix when I was growing up because it was easy, delicious and inexpensive, and it fed a crowd.
This was my introduction to braising, the first braised dish I ever made-and I didn't even know we were braising. Mom called it pot roast and we had it weekly. And in true Italian pot roast fashion, we'd eat it over rigatoni. I now sometimes serve it over soft polenta with mascarpone, another excellent option. It showed me how much I loved the deep complex flavors of braises generally, which I prefer to eat over just about any other kind of dish. One of the pleasures of this meal is the big chunks of carrots and celery root that cook in that delicious liquid for four hours; they take on all the flavors of the braising liquid. They don't taste like carrots and celery root anymore; they taste like a steak, and that's why they're so good.
A couple of critical steps in this recipe are getting a good sear on the meat and caramelizing the vegetables in the pot before deglazing. Beyond that, the red sauce is critical. And I also think it's important that a third of the meat be above the liquid-one of the factors that for me defines braising-so pot size is important; it shouldn't be so small that the meat is submerged or so big that the meat is sitting in just an inch of liquid.
For Yia Yia's Sunday sauce: Heat the oil in a 4-quart saucepan or large Dutch oven over medium heat. Brown the beef bones. Add the onions and cook until translucent, 2 minutes. Add the salt and garlic and cook until everything is soft but not browned, about 3 minutes. Squeeze the tomatoes one by one into the pan, pulverizing them by hand, and pour in their juice, too. Add the wine, oregano, red pepper flakes, if using, black pepper and bay leaf. Bring the sauce to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to its lowest possible setting, and continue to cook for 8 hours. The sauce should reduce by about one-third. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary. Remove the bones and bay leaf. Set aside 2 cups. If not using the remaining sauce right away, let it cool, then cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 2 months. Yield: 8 cups.
For the braised beef with root vegetables: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Sprinkle the meat liberally with salt and pepper as much as 1 day in advance. (Cover and refrigerate it if doing so and take the meat out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking.) Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. When the oil is on the verge of smoking, sear the meat for about 2 minutes per side. Move the meat to the side (or remove it from the pot altogether if necessary), and add the carrots, celery root and onions. Brown the vegetables for about 3 minutes, and then add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer. Pour in the wine and deglaze the pot, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom. Add Yia Yia's Sunday Sauce, 1 cup water and the bay leaves (and the pot roast if you removed it). Bring the liquid to a simmer and taste for seasoning. Add more salt if necessary. Cover the pot and place it in the oven for 3 hours, basting the meat occasionally during cooking time. When almost ready to serve, make the rigatoni, if using. Boil in salted water according to package directions until al dente. Discard the bay leaves before serving. Transfer the meat to a cutting board and slice into bite-size pieces, or shred with 2 forks. Return the meat to the pot of sauce along with the drained rigatoni. Toss to coat, and serve.