Braciole (Meat Rolls)

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

1 onion

80g pancetta

100g prosciuto

Bunch of continental parsley

Basil

100g provolone (don’t use a processed cheese slice or it will melt into the sauce)

50g sultana

50g pinenuts

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! 

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Pasta With Broccoli and Anchovies

This recipe comes from various Italian regions. Every city in Sicily has its own version – and claims that the method used in the closest town is completely wrong. In Rome they make it with a broth of skate (fish), and in Puglia I’ve tasted one which was superb.
This is a really easy and economical dish, quick to make and healthy to boot. In addition, you only use two cooking pans, ideal for anyone without a dishwasher.
In truth, there are only four ingredients.
At this point I need to share one of my food philosophies… My partner was obsessed with Masterchef, and a few times we watched it together and I remember the part when one of the contestants had to make a celebrity recipe. If I’m not wrong, the challenge was a vanilla and mango gelato which had to be piped into an empty eggshell with the end result appearing like a real egg.
And I was thinking … Why? Why not simply put the gelato in a cone or cup, because doing it the Masterchef way even makes it hard to eat because the shell could break and the gelato drips everywhere.
I was fixated on that egg-shaped gelato for a long time and I still can’t understand why we try to make food some sort of competition where taste takes a back seat – it’s apparently enough that the presentation has lots of fantasy.
It all made me think of my uncle, who prefers to eat directly from the saucepan because he insists that the best part remains stuck on the bottom…even an egg!
The moral of the story – and don’t mistake me for being a conservative or a traditionalist – is I wonder if all that energy and emphasis on filling an eggshell with gelato is really worth it.
In the end, cooking is a representation of life, like all of the arts, and there are those who find sense in researching and experimenting and complicating things and there are those who love the simple things like pasta and broccoli.
A chef friend once told me that if a recipe has more than five ingredients it means the chef is confused. I would also say pazzo (crazy).
Ingredients (for two)
As always, adjust the following to your personal taste. Some people worship anchovies, others would rather eat dirt than feel one of their whiskers in a dish. If you love the hirsute fishies, add less salt in the pasta water, otherwise it will be too salty. If you loathe them, just add one … we promise it won’t overwhelm the dish.
1 broccoli
2 anchovies
¼ cup of olive oil
250g pasta of choice
salt

1. Cut the broccoli into flowers

2. Fill a deep saucepan with water for the pasta, add salt. Wait until it comes to the boil and tip in the broccoli and pasta together, keeping a close watch on the cooking time for the pasta. If the cooking time for the psata is 15 minutes, let it boil for five minutes before adding the broccoli, otherwise the broccoli will be reduced to a pulp. The broccoli takes roughly 9-10 minutes to cook. 

3. In a (separate) small saucepan, pour in the olive oil and add the anchovies.
4. Let them cook with a lid on and on a low flame. Be careful not to burn the anchovies. When they are ready they will have completely melted.

5. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and then put it back in the same big pan, then drizzle the anchovy oil over the top. With a wooden spoon, squash the broccoli until the flowers are broken up and it’s slushy and yummy. We put the anchovies on top of the pasta below just to make it look remotely fancy-pants, but don’t feel obligated …

Buon Appetito

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Broad Beans & Chicory

In Italian when you say something non vale una fava, it means something is not worth a broad bean. Funny that, because Italians place great value on this humble bean, using it in everything from soups to pastas – or just snacking on them raw, like Alfonso does, when they are in season. 
 The history of broad beans is entwined with the good luck rites of the cult of the dead. In ancient Rome, during the festival dedicated to the god Flora, protector of nature’s germs, the beans were thrown on the crowd in a sign of fortune. But in other periods of the year, broad beans were considered impure. They were also used in religious rites as the food of the deceased and in funeral ceremonies they were scattered on the coffin and the slaves threw them behind the funeral procession as they chanted the name of the deceased.  The Greek philosopher Pitagora banned his disciples from eating them because he claimed that they contained the souls of the deceased.
The link rooted in history between the broad beans and the afterlife could be explained from the colour of its flower – white spotted with black, colours very rarely found in vegetables and considered a symbol of mystery. Or perhaps because of the farmers’ ritual to bury the plant after the harvest to render the soil fertile.
For eons, broad beans were considered a piatto povero – “poor man’s plate” -because they were a staple of the less privileged. Today, however, with the re-evaluation of the Mediterranean diet, they have become almost a posh ingredient.

Here is a typical recipe from Puglia (the boot of Italy’s heel). We’d like to thanks Mariagrazia and her family, who cooked it for us when we were her guests in Martinafranca.

Ingredients
For this recipe it’s not necessary to specifiy quantities, you should just cook as much as you like depending on your appetite. As the Italians say, do everything ad occhio, or “by eye”. I believe recipes should be a guide, not the law.

Water
Dried broad beans
Rock salt
Good olive oil
Bunch of chicory
Pepper
1. Place the broad beans in water to soak (ideally overnight or for at least 8 hours) then shell them. You can just press on the outer skin until it slides off, or you may have to tear with your finger first. Remove the little bean’s “appendage”. You’ll know what I mean when you see them …  

  2. Take the chicory and wash it well, then set aside.

3. In a big saucepan with a thick base (a ceramic one is even better if you have one) cover the broad beans completely, with about 5cm extra water on top. Add salt as you like.

4. Bring to the boil then reduce to a minimum flame and leave them to cook with the lid on for about an hour (the time required depends on the quality of the beans and how long you soaked them, so keep checking)

5. When the beans are soft grab a wooden spoon to create a puree or use a blender, still keeping the saucepan on a low flame. Stir until you attain the consistency you like best – some people like their puree thin, others prefer it chunky).

6. In the meantime, toast some bread and take a garlic clove, remove the husk and rub it on the toasted bread.

7. Boil the pre-washed chicory in lightly salted water, a minute is almost enough.

8. Plate up the ingredients as you prefer then drizzle some good olive oil on the puree alongside some pepper. The traditional way to eat this dish is to use the chicory like spaghetti and dunk it in the puree, contrasting the bitterness of the chicory perfectly with the sweetish and buttery flavour of the beans.

Buon Appetito!
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