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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Braciole: The best Italian dish you've never had!

Braciole! Excuse the sloppy presentation, but in the interest
of authenticity, libations may have been a factor ;)
While everyone else was busy eating their tough, bland cuts of rump roast for Sunday dinner, those of us who grew up poor were dining on soft, tender succulent pot roast. Chuck is the most flavorful cut of beef, but it requires long, slow cooking. The Italians shorten the cooking time by slicing the chuck roast into strips, then pounding the heck out of them. They up the ante by smearing them with a paste rub (usually made of pine nuts, parsley, Parmesan cheese and garlic), then rolling them up, searing them, covering with tomato sauce and baking like little pot roasts. (In Italian, they call them "involtini", meaning little bundles. "Braciole" is an American-Italian word.)

This dish is something that an Italian family would put on the stove (or in the oven) to cook all day. They'd also throw meatballs or extra cuts of pork into it and the resulting meaty, tomato deliciousness would be served on pasta. It's not a fancy dish, it's a peasant dish. Who knew the peasants ate so well?

In America you can find pre-sliced beef labeled as "for braciole" at most butcher shops, but it's usually made of rump roast or a leaner cut. That cut of meat turns out kind of mealy and dry with the long cooking time and loses most of the beefy flavor the dish is known for in Italy. You can also find the cuts of perforated beef that are usually designed for country-fried steak. That will also work as a short cut, but the texture isn't quite the same.

There are as many variations on this dish as there are variations on pot roast. There's not really a right or wrong way to make it, it will be delicious in any form. Sometimes the filling has breadcrumbs instead of pine nuts, but I like the flavor of the pine nuts, and also feel that bread crumbs can be a bit soggy. Experiment and see what you like! To make it really authentic, libations should be consumed during the entire preparation. ;)

  • 3 lbs beef chuck roast (or pre-sliced beef)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (usually found near the produce section, not the baking aisle)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (Kraft works fine for this, no reason to get fancy here)
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • handful of fresh chopped parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3 tbsp olive oil for searing the beef
  • Meatballs or additional pieces of pork.
  • 8 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
  • 2 pounds of pasta
  1. Put the pine nuts, cheese, raisins, parsley and garlic into a food processor and grind until it's about the size of couscous.
    Pine nuts, raisins, garlic, parsley and Parmesan
  2. If using the chuck roast, slice into thin strips. It's much easier to do with a serrated knife.
    Of course, you'll want to slice away from yourself. :)
  3. Gently pound the meat slices to less than 1/4" thick.
    Not quite thin enough yet
  4. Spread a strip a beef out. It should make a rectangle approximately 6"x4", but the size isn't that critical. In reality, many of the strips will be various shapes and you can just push multiple pieces together to make a rectangle.
  5. Sprinkle the rectangle with salt and pepper, then smear about 2 tablespoons of the filling onto it.
    This strip was large so it was cut into 3 pieces and rubbed down
    This is a wider strip and will be cut into two pieces after rolling
  6. Roll the meat from the short side into a fat log. If the rectangle is made of multiple pieces, begin rolling with the end that's got the smaller pieces so that it ends up on the inside of the roll. If using a single piece of meat, begin with the end that's most uneven so that it ends up inside the roll. (You'll probably end up with one or two small scraps of meat or fat leftover. Don't throw them out.)
    Perfect sized rolls
  7. Preheat the oil in a large pot until shimmering. Sear the beef, starting with the side containing the seam for a minute or so, then roll to sear all sides. (I add the tooth picks at this stage because you can actually see where they'll separate but I've gotten a few burns this way! :) )
    Ready to sear!
    Smell that goodness!
  8. Once they're browned on all sides, you can remove and brown meatballs and/or any pieces of extra meat that are leftover from making the rolls.
    Outsides just seared for flavor!
    The insides will be slow cooked in sauce.
  9. Add everything back to the pot, then cover with the sauce. (Normally I'd make homemade sauce, but this time I just tossed in a couple of cans of whole peeled tomatoes with some garlic, onions and herbs.)
    I didn't have any sauce available so I improvised.
  10. Simmer over low heat on the stove for 2 hours or bake in the oven at 275F for 3 hours.
  11. Serve over pasta.
    Normally, this would be surrounded by a rich delicious
    tomato sauce.

1 comment:

  1. I never thought about pine nuts for this type of pot roast! I've spent years trying to replicate an amazing dish that I ate at a potluck years ago and never quite found what I was looking for. I am thrilled to say that this is it! Plus, you are very right, I've tried this with bread crumbs before and it was just another aspect that wasn't quite as good. Thank you!

    Felicia Curtis @ Amelia's Balboa Island