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Growing up Italian meant always sitting down for a classic Italian Sunday meal. My brother and I would typically wake to the smell of meatballs frying on the stove. With mouths watering, we would tumble into the kitchen to drool over my Mom’s creations but we were never allowed to taste the sauce or meatballs before 11 AM church, apparently some sort of Catholic rule about not eating an hour prior to Communion.
If we were up early enough, we could coax our Mother into giving us a taste but we quickly learned that she was using the ‘rule’ as a way to avoid having us eat all the fruits of her labor before lunchtime.
The result was that we usually walked around the house in our Sunday best, drooling from the delicious smells wafting from the kitchen. Occasionally, Mom made braciole, little Italian beef rolls stuffed with delicious Sicilian ingredients like pine nuts, raisins, cheese, and parsley. They would simmer for hours and were mouthwateringly tender by the time we returned from church. We would dart into the house anxious to sit down to Sunday ‘dinner’, which was always number 9 spaghetti although occasionally we would help rollout piles of homemade macaroni, enough to send dishes to friends in the neighborhood. My mother always had a saucepot in the basement refrigerator.
Sundays she would add a fresh batch of meatballs or her Sicilian braciole. Those precious times between church and Sunday dinner were the only time my brother and I did not raise hell for my Mom. We knew better than to do anything to potentially prolong mealtime. In hindsight, it was amazing that she didn’t wait until hours later to serve dinner. It would have kept the peace a lot longer.
In my own kitchen, I occasionally add braciole to my saucepot and smile with warm memories of helping my Mom roll the braciole. I am not sure my version will ever do hers justice as her Sunday meals were legendary. With a lazy Sunday ahead, I found myself craving for my Mom’s tender braciole – a meal to warm both my heart and our house.
I am happy to report mission accomplished – as I type this, my house smells of the wonderful Sunday aromas with which I grew up – a fitting meal to end a beautiful Fall weekend. Buon appetito!
For the braciole filling:
•1/2 cup breadcrumbs
•1/3 cup golden raisins
•1/3 cup pine nuts
•3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
•1/2 cup grated provolone
•1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
•4 tablespoons olive oil (or more), divided
•1 piece of flank steak, about 1 1/2 pounds, pounded to 1/8 inch thickness
•Salt and freshly ground black pepper
•1 small onion, finely chopped
•3/4 cup dry red wine
•2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
•About 1/4 cup basil, chopped
•Additional parsley, chopped
•Freshly grated Parmigiano
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mix together the first 6 ingredients in a bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the oil. If too dry, add a bit more oil. You want the mixture to clump together when pressed. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Lay out the flank steak. Be sure the steak is pounded to 1/8 inch thickness. If still too thick, pound away. Place the filling over the steak covering evenly. Starting at the shorter end, roll up the flank steak into a tight cylinder. Tie the roll with butcher’s twine or toothpicks (twine works better).
Heat a large ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add in the braciole and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Carefully remove the braciole to a plate.
Add the onion to the pot and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add in the wine and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pot. Add in the tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium low. Allow to simmer for a few minutes to incorporate all the ingredients. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Add the braciola back into the pot. Cover with lid or foil and place in the oven. Bake, turning the braciole every 30 minutes or so. Occasionally baste with the tomato sauce. Uncover about 1 hour into baking. Bake until meat is tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Add a bit more wine or water to the sauce if needed as it cooks.
Remove the braciole from the sauce and let rest. Remove the butcher twine or toothpicks. Slice the braciola into 1 inch thick slices. Transfer to a warmed platter. Spoon the sauce over. Sprinkle with the basil and parsley. Serve with plenty of freshly grated parmigiano.
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Joe lives in LA; Michele in eastern Pennsylvania. Together, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.