braciole: (brah-chee-oh-luh) noun, plural braciolas: a flat piece of veal or beef rolled around a filling and baked in stock and wine.
When it comes to Sunday sugu (slow-simmered tomato sauce), some add-ins are a must including meatballs, pork ribs, neck bones, Italian sausage and, last but not least, braciole.
I remember as a child watching my mother prepare braciole on Saturday evening to put in her sugu on Sunday.
What exactly is braciole? Most food historians favor the Napolitanas (the people of Napels, Italy) for creating this dish of meat (beef or pork) roulade, pounded thin and filled with several ingredients, mosty staples in a Sicilian-American kitchen such as breadcrumbs, provolone & Romano cheese, currants, basil leaves and garlic, pancetta and prosciutto and put it in a pot of tomato sauce to simmer.
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In most regions of Italy, this is sometimes called Involtini and some Sicilian chefs even use swordfish. Never would cheese be added with seafood in Italy.
But let me warn you, if you order braciole in a restaurant in Italy you are going to get just a slice of meat grilled over “brace,” which means coals, as per the origin of the word. Many food historians feel the word was actually first used in New Orleans and Kansas City and is slang. I actually prefer the word braciole because that is what I was raised with.
What makes my braciole different? Nothing really other than my family, like a lot of Italian families, put a hard-boiled egg in the center.
I love to serve braciole with a bowl of rigatoni and slow simmered Sunday sugu. Did I mention it also tastes great between a few slices of Italian bread soaked in some of the sugu? Ahhh … so exquisite! The perfect accompaniment to a traditional Italian dinner.
My age-old recipe was taught to my mother by her mother, Rose Cropisi, and I am honored to share my grandmother’s recipe with you today. Be creative, add pine nuts, prosciutto and or pancetta for added flavor.
As always, Mangia Bene!
Jasper Mirabile’s Sunday Braciole
1 pound boneless beef top round
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves fresh garlic minced
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Romano cheese, divided
2 slices provolone cheese
4-5 fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons currants
2 peeled hard boiled eggs
Olive oil for sautéing
4 ounces Chianti
Place meat between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound to about a quarter-inch thick. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and rub with minced garlic. Dust with Italian breadcrumbs and Romano, add provolone, basil and currants. Add whole hard boiled egg. Roll up and tie with string at 1-inch intervals.
Add olive oil to a pan and heat on medium. Add braciole and cook, turning as needed until browned, about 12 to 15 minutes. Add wine and simmer until reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove meat from pan and add to your Sunday sauce.
Remove braciole from sauce, cut string, slice and serve with grated Romano cheese and sauce.
Mirabile Family Sunday Sauce
This is the old-fashioned sauce used by Jasper’s and Marco Polo’s. If you do not like canned puree, you can substitute whole tomatoes, omit the water and puree the tomatoes in a food processor or by hand. Make sure you periodically stir the sauce and do not let the sugar burn or you will scorch the sauce.
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 whole head of peeled garlic cloves, puréed
1 (28-ounce) can tomato purée
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 tablespoons sugar
10 to 12 fresh basil leaves
Heat the olive oil in a 4-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and remove the pan from the stove. Add the tomato purée and water and mix thoroughly. Stir in the salt, red pepper flakes and fennel seeds and cook for about 2 hours, adding the sugar and basil after 1 1/2 hours. At that time you can also add sautéed sausage, meatballs or braciola.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.