I have to give the spirit award for cheerleading our family’s Italian heritage to my cousin. She admiringly studied in Italy, can speak Italian, and was actively involved in the Italian-American club while in college. I lagged behind in this regard growing up, but in recent years I’ve come to embrace my heritage with pride, and it shows in my cooking. I taught myself how to make homemade gnocchi and fresh pasta. I had my cousin clarify that ‘capicola’ and ‘gabagoul’ are in fact the same thing. I watched every episode of ‘Molto Mario’ that my DVR could tape, and proceeded to re-create, as best I could, many of the iconic Italian and Italian-American dishes that would make Tony Soprano proud, like this one, Italian Braciole. (Pronounced ‘bra-zhul’).
Just like there are a thousand ways to make chili, beef stew or Indian dal, there are certainly many different interpretations of braciole. But essentially, ‘braciole’ means thin slices of meat rolled around filling like a roulade. Sometimes the meat is breaded and fried, sometimes not. In this preparation, flank steak is butterflied and pounded thin, then wrapped around a filling of mortadella slices, ground veal, crisp pancetta, breadcrumbs and sweet green peas.
It’s not difficult to butterfly a flank steak, though you could ask your butcher to do this for you. Using a sharp knife (such as a boning knife or chef’s knife), carefully slice the steak in half along it’s length, being careful not to cut all the way through. Open the steak like a book. Then lay plastic wrap on top and pound with the flat side of a meat mallet to an even thickness. Once the meat is stuffed, rolled and tied, the cooking time goes much quicker than your typical braised dish, since flank steak doesn’t require nearly as long to become tender. Just make sure to check the temperature of the filling – you want that veal inside to reach 135.
This braciole over soft polenta with the reduced red wine sauce is just heaven, though you could serve the braciole as your Secondi (main course), preceded by a pasta Primi (first course), as the Italians probably would.
So in the words of proud Italians everywhere - I bid you Buon Appetito!
- 1/4 lb ground veal
- 2 oz pancetta or prosciutto, crisped
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- 2 Tbs plain dried breadcrumbs
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup pecorino romano, grated
- 1/3 frozen petite green peas, thawed
- 1 flank steak (1.5 -2 lbs)
- 6 thin slices mortadella
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 1/2 large onion, chopped
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 3 cups beef stock
- 2 Tbs tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
1. Make filling – in medium bowl, mix veal, crisped pancetta, parsley, breadcrumbs, garlic, and pecorino. Gently stir in peas. Set aside.
2. Lay the flank on a flat work surface and pat both sides dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, butterfly the steak by slicing it horizontally along its length but not all the way through. Open the steak like a book. Cover with plastic wrap and pound to an even 1/2″ thickness.
3. With the short end of the meat facing you, lay the mortadella slices over the steak, overlapping them slightly, leaving a 1/2″ border around the edges. Spread the filling on top in an even layer, again leaving the edges uncovered. Starting at one end, tightly roll up the steak and tie off with 3-4 pieces of kitchen string.
4. In large Dutch oven, warm the oil. Add the steak when the oil is hot and brown the roll on all sides, 3-4 minutes per side (about 12-15 minutes total). Transfer meat to a plate. Add onion and cook until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Add wine and stir, scraping loose any browned bits from the pan. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Pour in stock and whisk in tomato paste. Add bay leaf.
5. Return meat to pot. Liquid should come about halfway up the sides of the beef. If it doesn’t, add more stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Turn the roll and continue to cook until a thermometer inserted into the stuffing registers 135 degrees, 10-15 minutes longer. Transfer braciole to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, strain solids from sauce, reserving liquid. Return liquid to pan and simmer 10-15 minutes or until thickened. If you like, add 2-3 Tbs cornstarch slurry (2 Tbs cornstarch whisked with 1-2 Tbs water) to thicken sauce further.
7. Snip the strings off the braciole and slice. Serve over polenta with sauce.
Serves 4 main course portions.
Recipe adapted from Williams Sonoma Essentials of Mediterranean Cooking