If you're not familiar with it, think of braciole as frugality all dressed up for Sunday dinner! It's usually reserved for special occasions but make no mistake, this is peasant food. The ingredients are relatively inexpensive, so visit your butcher and grocer to buy top quality local, organic ingredients.
"What's with the egg?", you ask. The best answer I ever heard was that it makes the meat "go further." I believe it. This is a stick-to-your-ribs, protein-packed meal with beef, prosciutto and cheese wrapped around an egg. Come to think of it, it's a lot like turducken -- Sicilian style!
My recipe makes eight individual braciole. Fillings can be switched or omitted to accommodate dietary preferences -- just make sure to change the way you tie each bundle so you know what's inside.
There's a fair amount of prep to this dish but it works to your advantage. Just make it well ahead of dinner time and keep it basted with tomato sauce throughout. The flavors develop, the meat will be even more tender and you'll enjoy a relaxed dinner (and a clean kitchen) when the time comes.
I wanted you to see what the braciole looks like when it's sliced so I photographed one that way. It's not the way I serve it though. Cutting the braciole causes it to cool too quickly for me. View the recipe inside for a picture of how it usually looks on the plate. I served it, this time, with rigatoni, Caesar salad and a 2009 Oregon Pinot Noir from the Territorial Vineyards in Eugene, Oregon.
Yield: Makes 8 braciole
Time: 40 minutes prep, 2 hours cooking.
2 lbs chuck steak, pounded thin
8 slices prosciutto
1/2 cup Romano cheese - grated
2 cloves garlic - minced or crushed
Fresh basil - one per bundle
4 hard-boiled eggs cut in half, lengthwise
1/3 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
5-6 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
Basil or parsley for garnish
Whether you make your own tomato sauce, or are using a favorite brand, start that in a large pot on a low heat. It should be hot when you add the meat.
Place the meat between sheets of wax paper. Using the flat side of a meat tenderizer, pound the meat to approximately 1/8" thick. Try to maintain its rectangular shape and don't pound holes in it. Cut into 8 pieces.
Top each piece of meat with a slice of prosciutto. Sprinkle evenly with cheese, bread crumbs, minced garlic and a dash of pepper.
Lay one leaf of basil, then one halved egg, in the center. Roll each one, making sure that the sides are closed, and tie securely. Removing the string is tricky when the braciole is hot and covered in tomato sauce. I find that using a single piece and tying an obvious, long-tailed bow makes it easier. Also, I find that an extra knot or 2 on the tail of the bow will help you differentiate between those with, or without, certain ingredients. Notice the braciole in the center of the picture. See how closely I cut the string? Now imagine how much more difficult it would be to find that tiny knot when it's covered in piping hot sauce!
Enough about knots. You're ready to brown the braciole. Use a little olive oil on medium/medium high heat. This isn't about cooking the meat as much as searing it to keep it juicy.
Add all of the browned meat to the sauce and simmer on low for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove from sauce and remove the strings before serving.
This is where you have options. If you want to make this ahead, remove the strings and gently place them in a casserole. Spoon a generous amount of sauce over them. Cover (either with the casserole lid or foil) and place them in the oven at 275 to 300 until the rest of the meal is ready.
Alternatives & Substitutions:
It's important to stuff the braciole with some fat since the beef is generally lean. However, this is an easy recipe to vary depending on food preferences. These are a few variations that may be helpful if dairy or gluten allergies are an issue.
Instead of seasoned bread crumbs: pepper, oregano, salt, pepper, basil and garlic.
Instead of cheese: pine nuts
The egg is optional, but adds protein and you can't beat the presentation.
If prosciutto isn't available, you can use salt pork or ham but, if it's smoked, you'll taste the difference.
Provolone can be used instead of the traditional hard cheeses.
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