Dinner

By Matt Essert | June 24, 2011

I’ve cooked a lot of things, but until now I’ve never cooked braciole.

Growing up with a gaggle of Italian relatives, Sunday trips to visit the cousins, aunts and uncles featured a spread of cheeses, homes-made salami and wine, delicious pastas, succulent meat dishes, and a massive table of home-made cookies and cakes. I could talk about any of these things at length, but I’m just going to discuss one: braciole.

Although I’ve eaten braciole before, and am fairly comfortable with Italian cooking, I’ve never before cooked braciole. For this column, I decided to try making my own.

There are five basic facts to know about this dish. First, braciole, singularly called braciola, are thin slices of pork or beef rolled up like a cigar, usually stuffed with a cheese and herb, or sometimes meat, filling. Second, it’s pronounced bra-joel (rhyming with “goal”). Third, braciole is a classic Italian American dish with its roots in Sicilian cuisine. Fourth, it’s often part of a big Sunday tomato sauce of other meats like meatballs and sausages. Fifth, braciole are awesome.

Since I’ve never made these before, I spent a bit of time researching and consulting relatives to see if they had any tips. There were probably a lot of things I could do with the braciole, but as is the general rule of thumb with Italian cooking, I decided it was best to keep it simple. Also, I was cooking this meal for my dad’s father’s day and my mom’s birthday meal, so I figured I should try to minimize the possibilities for something to go wrong.

On top of cooking braciole for the first time, I was also pounding out and tying up meat with twine for the first time. These were two things that could have gone horribly wrong, but for the most part I did okay. Because I was making about five or six braciole, I was able to get better at both of these techniques after each one.

When doing something like this for the first time, it’s important to really pay attention to what you’re doing so that 1) you can do a good job, 2) you don’t hurt yourself, and 3) you can know what worked well and what didn’t so future attempts at the dish can turn out even better.

Because I was also making tomato sauce (you can eat braciole alone or with tomato sauce, whatever you want, you’re the one cooking it), I only seared the braciole in oil olive, but didn’t cook them all the way. I wanted to finish cooking them in the sauce in hopes of adding even more flavor to both the braciole and the sauce.

I was pretty happy with my braciole. I probably overcooked them a little bit, but not too much that they weren’t still good, oh well. I think with a dish like this, it’s good to get a cut of pork or beef that is lean enough to be easily pounded thin, but fatty enough so that it can cook in the sauce for a while without drying out. Something like a pork shoulder might work well. But this is a pretty straightforward slow-cooking dish with great results. Keep in mind that you can be creative and change up the fillings or add different things like breadcrumbs or prosciutto.

Photos: Matt Essert

  • Six 1/2 or 1/4 inch thick pork or beef cutlets
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, roughly chopped into small 1/4 inch blocks
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 batch of your favorite tomato sauce
  • Salt and pepper, for seasoning

Directions

1. Place each cutlet between two pieces of wax paper and pound out each piece with a meat hammer until thin enough to roll.

2. Rub the pounded out cutlets with a garlic clove.

3. Arrange equal parts cheese and parsley on the meat and roll up tightly into a cigar shape. Tie with butcher's twine to keep the bundle together. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat for each cutlet.

4. In a pan or pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.

5. When oil is hot, but not smoking, carefully add as many of the braciole as will fit in the pan at one time.

6. Rotate each piece occasionally and fry the braciole until each side is evenly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the braciole and set aside, covering with tin foil.

7. Cook your tomato sauce. A basic sauce would work best to showcase the delicious braciole you've been working so hard to create.

8. When the sauce is about 45 minutes or 1 hour from being done (depending on your sauce recipe), add the braciole into the sauce and finish cooking for the remaining time.

9. Serve alone or with a side of pasta. Make sure to cut off the butcher's twine before serving to your guests so they don't get a mouthful of rope ... that would just be awkward.

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