In Italy, le braciole are the classic Sunday lunch. Traditionally they’re made with goat meat, but I prefer veal or beef. This is my updated version, which is actually the updated version of my mother’s recipe, which is her mother’s method…updated.
My grandmother lived on a masseria – kind of a fortified farm with a central space where the whole family (my nonna had eleven siblings) did jobs like butchering chickens and pigs, making wine and bread and tomato preserve.
Every Sunday she would start cooking her meat rolls at six in the morning. First she’d prepare the sugo, or tomato sauce, in a gigantic saucepan and you could smell it from a mile away.
Another thing I remember is the size of the wooden spoon she would use. It was so huge my cousins and I contemplated using it as a spade in our games, and my grandma also had the same idea but not for games – just chasing us when we had got into mischief, and she was a great thrower! I often wonder what happened to that wooden spoon.
The preparation of my grandma’s sugo is much more elaborate than the one I am sharing with you, because it includes ingredients like pig fat and pig ribs and pig skin, carrots, red wine and other mixed meat leftovers but above all a cooking time of at least five hours, and the quantities of the meat rolls were at least four times the amount in my recipe. I’ve squashed everything into just a couple of hours and I assure you the result is pretty close.
The reason I don’t use pig fat is because my partner prohibits me from putting in too many fatty but DELICIOUS ingredients which she claims are bad for our health. No one ever told my grandma that. Sure, she’s the size of an ox, but she’s 94!
Ingredients – Serves 4
The quantities in this recipe is also very subjective, I would recommend making a little extra sugo – that way you can use it as a pasta sauce, that way you kills two birds with one stone, or as the Italians say, “take out two pigeons with a broad bean”…We Italians like our food adages more than you Aussies.
600g beef or veal
¼ cup olive oil
Bunch of continental parsley
100g provolone (don’t use a processed cheese slice or it will melt into the sauce)
3 garlic cloves
50g grated parmesan
1.2 kg peeled tomatoes
Salt and pepper
In a big saucepan put the tomatoes, peeled onion, olive oil, a few basil leaves and salt and pepper to taste . Cook on a low flame and cover with a lid, but place a wooden spoon just under the lid so there’s a crack (this allows a little but not too much evaporation)
Leave to cook for about an hour. This way of cooking in Neapolitan dialect is called pappoliare, an onomatopoeic word for the sound of a sugo slowly boiling.
During the time the sugo pappolea prepare the meat rolls. Put the sultanas to soak in some water and in a blender place the parsley, some basil, the grated parmesan, pinenuts, garlic, diced pancetta and blend until you have a green cream…taste it and add salt and pepper according to your taste
Spread the “green cream” over the top
Place a slice of prosciutto on a slice of meat
Sprinkle some sultantas on top
Place a slice of provolone at the base of the meat, from where you intend to start rolling the meat
Roll up the meat and tie with some cooking string (or you can use toothpicks, but be careful because my uncle once swallowed one!)
Put the meat rolls in the sugo and let them cook on a low flame for a coupel of hours.
A good way to know if they are ready is to make one or two extra and after around 1.5 hours you can try one, add salt if you need it and assess how much longer they need to cook. Be careful that they don’t stick to the bottom of the sauce, otherwise you will have strange black marks in the sauce that isn’t visually attractive…so stir periodically and add some hot water if the sauce reduces too much, ideally the same hot water you have used to cook the pasta in.
Don’t forget to mop up the rich, meat-infused sugo with some crusty bread. Molto buono!