Saturday, January 14, 2012

Braciole

This is my version of my mother's recipe, which is her version of her mother's recipe.  Which means all is right in the world when I make this.  Matt loves this dish, almost more for the sauce than for the little bundles of beef (which are ridiculously tasty on their own by the way).  But you can't make this sauce stand alone- it requires the braciole component and the hour of simmering to achieve its complex, addictive, roll-your-eyes-way-back-in-your-head deliciousness.  If you are new to braciole, it is pronounced [bruh-ZHOLE] (rhymes with pole).  Just like the endless arguments as to what goes in to tortellini, or how to make a Bolognese sauce, there are myriad ways to make braciole, not only from region to region or town to town, but one house, to the one across the street.

Since braciole has so many variants, there is definitely flexibility in this dish.  Don't like the piquantness of Pecorino Romano?  Use some Parmigiano or Grana.  Have a pal, spouse or kiddo who can detect the faintest wisp of the evil "spicy"?  Leave out the red pepper flake.  If you don't do pork or wine in your house, you can omit the pancetta from the braciole filling (which is my addition anyways, not in my grandmother's original), and you can omit the wine in the sauce, but do deglaze the pan with a little water or tomato juice before adding the diced up tomatoes.  Now, you'll wind up with a different tasting dish from mine, but it will be yours and tasty just the same...because making the changes your house likes is exactly what family recipes are good for.

I use San Marzano tomatoes here, worth the extra $ in my opinion for this dish.  In many sauces, I use fire-roasted tomatoes, but that layer of flavor would be lost in this dish (although if you are omitting both the wine and the red pepper flake, then you might want to use them). You can serve the braciole as is for a second course after a soup, light pasta or risotto with minimal sauce, reserving the extra sauce for another purpose; serve the braciole over fettucine or other pasta, but my favorite way to serve this is in a bowl with the sauce, topped with a little cheese and with lots of crusty homemade bread for mopping up the sauce.  If there are only a couple of you in your house, go ahead and make the whole dish.  Makes great leftovers out of the fridge and the freezer.

Serves ~ 6-8

For braciole and paste:

  • 2 pounds beef bottom round or top round (ask your butcher to slice it into thin ~ 1/2" slices)
  • 2 oz pancetta, cut into chunks
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (homemade if you have 'em!)
  • 4 TBS pecorino romano cheese
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • ~2 TBS olive oil
To assemble:
  • Cut slices of beef into pieces the size of a playing card.  Using a meat mallet, pound slices to a thickness, of just under a 1/4"
  • Place pancetta and garlic into a mini food processor and buzz until a paste forms. (If you don't have a mini food processor, very finely chop both pancetta and garlic)
  • Mix together pancetta, garlic, bread crumbs, cheese and basil.
  • Drizzle olive oil into mixture until you get a pasty consistency.
  • Put a spoonful of the braciole paste onto a slice of beef.  Roll the beef slice up around the paste, tucking the sides along the way.  If one side of the beef slice is wider than the other end, start at the wider end to facilitate tucking the sides to enclose the paste.  Close each roll with a toothpick if needed.
For sauce:
  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • scant TBS of dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flake
  • 1/2 cup red wine (something you would drink)
  • 1 28-oz can diced San Marzano tomatoes
To cook braciole and sauce:
  • In a wide, deep saut√© pan or large dutch oven heat olive oil over medium-high heat.
  • Season the beef rolls with a light sprinkling of salt and some grinds of black pepper
  • Place rolls into pan and brown deeply on all sides.  Do not crowd the pan, do this in two or three batches if needed, to give the rolls space to brown.  If you didn't use toothpicks, brown the rolls seam side down first, before turning.
  • Set beef rolls aside.
  • Drain off excess fat from pan, leaving about 1 TBS in pan.
  • Drop heat to medium and add onion and garlic.
  • Cook onion and garlic until softened.
  • Push onion and garlic aside and add basil and red pepper flake, stirring for about a minute.
  • Deglaze pan with red wine, and simmer for a few minutes.
  • Add tomatoes, and add half a can's worth of water.
  • Stir together, return braciole to pan and sink into sauce
  • Simmer for about an hour, until braciole are tender and sauce has thickened.
Braciole is even better the next day.   If you can stand the wait, make them one day, and have the next. Reheat over slowly over low heat in a heavy pot.

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