There’s something special about a braciola. Maybe it’s because they tended to show up in the Sunday sauce closer to the holidays, but braciole more than any other meat dish remind me of being very young and hanging out with my cousins at my grandmother’s house. Nothing like a little nostalgia to get me hungry and inspired to cook!
For the uninitiated: a braciola is a beef cutlet pounded thin, then seasoned and rolled. I usually will use a round roast for this dish, sliced thin by the butcher, but according to my mother, the best cut to get for braciole is “whatever is on sale and looks good.” Needless to say: since this dish is yet-another example of poverty cooking at its finest, tenderness will have less to do with the cut of meat than with the length of time spent braising it.
What you season your braciole with is a matter of taste…or tradition. Me, I keep it simple. And as with anything involving fun food prep, it’s a great dish to prepare with little hands in the kitchen.
1-3/4 lb round roast, cut into 1/4″ cutlets
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
toothpicks or butcher’s twine
tomato sauce or other braising liquid
Pound the cutlets until thin, but not tearing through. Spread out as many as will fit on a cookie sheet and season with salt, pepper, parsley, and freshly grated cheese. Scatter evenly across the meat a pinch or two of minced garlic (more or less, to taste). Drizzle lightly with olive oil.
Now comes the rolling. Start with the thinnest end and roll–firmly, but not too tightly. The goal here is for the braciola to hold together, but you don’t want the meat too dense. Now there are two schools as to what you do next: toothpicks or twine. Either toothpick the braciole shut to keep from opening (one or two should be sufficient), or bind them in a couple of wraps of butcher’s twine. I go with the twine because, well, that’s the way my mother did it. Only, she never had butcher’s twine and used cotton sewing thread instead.
The final step is a long braise, and this is where the Sunday sauce comes in. I am not going to get into sauce recipes–or what we called “gravy” in my house (and many other Italian-American households in the northeast), but the best braise for braciole, in my opinion, is simply to add them to a basic tomato sauce and allow them a long, slow cook: say, an hour and a half. When tender to a fork, remove from the gravy–I mean sauce–and transfer to a serving dish to accompany your pasta–preferably rigatoni.
You can unbind all the braciole yourself, but I would leave that to each family member. And if you are using toothpicks: make sure everyone knows how many they should find!