My grandmother was born in Calabria and traveled to the United States as a teenager. She brought with her the culinary traditions of her homeland, and, since her mother had died when she was young, was in charge of cooking for her brothers and father. She continued to cook her whole life, so my mother grew up with these traditions as well. My father (of Irish heritage) started eating my grandmother's food after he and my mom met as teenagers. I also remember spending Sundays together with her and the family eating the Sunday sauce. Something that was always in the sauce was braciole. Read on for what that is and the recipe.
My grandmother died when I was eight years old, so while I do have fond childhood memories of spending time with her and eating her food, I did not do much cooking with her. My mom carried on the traditions, but some things just weren't the same after Nonni died. She didn't make the braciole, a rolled meat dish that was a staple in our Sunday sauce. Luckily, we have a very good Italian butcher in town, and my mother began to go there for braciole instead of making them. While the taste was similar, they were much bigger than the ones my grandmother would make.
Now that I am living in Italy, I am learning more about Italian cuisine and the local specialties that make each region unique. We live in Turin, in the north, and many of the dishes here are different that what I grew up with. Beppe's parents are both from the south of Italy, however (his mom from Puglia and his dad from Calabria), so many of the things we eat with them are similar to what I remember, and some things are almost exactly the same. One of the things that is very close to what I grew up with is the braciole, which Beppe's mom calls involtini. A different name for the same thing, but Angela's are very close to what my grandmother used to make! They are small and simple.
-Angela makes her braciole with veal, while we use pork or beef. This gives a slightly different flavor to the sauce. I've also seen local butchers here make braciole of rabbit and chicken.
-Angela closes her braciole with toothpicks, while my grandmother and our local butcher use twine. Twine is ideal for bigger braciole, but I find that the toothpicks are perfect for these smaller ones, both during the preparation and also when eating.
-Before the tomato puree is added, you brown the meat in a soffritto, a mix of chopped onions, garlic and carrots. Being the attentive and loving mother and grandmother that she is, Angela adapts her soffritto to her (grown) children's and her grandchildren's taste. Her sons do not like garlic, so she leaves it out (she did throw one in for me during her demo!). Also, the grandkids do not like to find bits of onions or carrots in their food so she throws bigger chunks of both in just to add flavor while browning the meat. She takes them out before she adds the tomatoes. This reminds me of how my grandmother used to make special meatballs for me without parsley back when I was a picky eater. She would even roll them into a different shape so we could tell the difference.
At the beginning of September, during the peak of tomato season, Angela invited us over to learn how to make braciole and also showed us how she turns fresh tomatoes into a sauce. Below are the recipes and the videos of the process. As always, we aren't proving exact measurements because that's not how things are down here. It takes a bit of trial and error, as well as adapting to what's available to you locally and your own tastes.
We hope you enjoy. If you do give this recipe a try, please let us know what you think.
-Meat: My grandmother used pork and beef. Angela uses veal in the video below. She goes to her local butcher and asks for veal cut specifically to make involtini (braciole) and they know what to do. You might not have the same option where you are. Go for lean cuts of meat. Some popular ones are:
- Top Round
- Flank Steak
- Skirt Steak
And if you aren't able to get them sliced as thinly as you see in the video, you can always use a meat tenderizer at home to get the desired result.
-Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese: You can also use pecorino. Pecorino Romano is common where I grew up and is what my grandmother used. Whichever you use, don't cut corners on the quality. Make sure you get the real thing important from Italy. And NEVER use the dry shaker cheese found in the supermarket aisle.
-White wine: You can also use red wine. It will give a stronger flavor and is appropriate for colder months.
Toothpicks or twine: Angela uses toothpicks to hold the braciole together. They work fine for smaller braciole. For larger ones, twine will be more appropriate.
-Prepare a soffrito: chopped onion, carrot and garlic. A half an onion, half a carrot and one clove of garlic was what was used to make the amount shown in the video.
-Lay the slices of meat out and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
-Add the chopped parsley and grated cheese.
-Roll the meat up. The method is similar to how you would roll a burrito or wrap.
-Hold it all together with either toothpicks or twine.
-Add some olive oil to a pan and turn on the heat (medium high). Add your soffrito and saute.
-Add the meat and brown it: For the small, thin and tender braciole that Angela made, the browning process took only 2-3 minutes. If you are using a thicker/tougher type of meat, or if your braciole are bigger, the browning process will be longer.
-Add a few ounces of wine and cook a bit longer.
-Add the tomatoes (for tomato prep and final product, see below).
-Tomato puree: You can use your preferred brand of crushed or pureed tomatoes from the store, but if tomatoes are in season where you are we recommend using fresh tomatoes. Use sweet, well-ripened tomatoes.
-Slice the tomatoes into big chunks.
-Add just a few ounces of water to a saucepan, enough to cover the bottom by about a quarter inch.
-Turn the heat on high.
-Once the water is hot but not boiling, add the chopped tomatoes and a few basil leaves.
-Add a piece of carrot.
-Add a pinch os salt.
-Cook over a high heat for about five minutes, stirring continuously.
-Once the tomatoes are soft, remove from heat. Take out the piece of carrot.
-Use an immersion blender to puree the tomatoes.
Once your tomato puree is ready, you can add it to the browned braciole and cook over a medium high heat for 15-20 minutes. Bigger pots of sauce will take longer.