There’s something about rolling your own

November 18, 2016

Braciole. Sunday dinner Italian comfort food.

Braciole. Sunday dinner Italian comfort food.

I have become a decided fan of rolling things up in a flattened piece of meat. I started out with rolling up a flattened chicken breast that had been spread with a layer of cream cheese mixed with pesto. Those, fried or roasted, chilled and sliced, make great luncheon fare, particularly when served with slices of tomato and a generous squiggle of balsamic glaze.

Then I graduated to rouladen, round steak pounded thin, wrapped around a bratwurst and a kosher dill pickle spear. Those get sauteed and then simmered in red wine or beer. Cured meat products are a whole different animal; bacon-wrapped dates or chicken tenders; proscuitto wrapped melon or asparagus spears; ham tucked around potato wedges.

And then there’s braciole, the Italian version of the roulade. It probably has as many iterations as there are cooks who make it, but at its heart, it’s a flattened piece of round or sirloin steak, topped with a filling, rolled and tied, browned and then braised in a marinara sauce. And it’s just pure comfort food.

Ready to roll: sirloin tip steak with bread crumb/parmigiano stuffing.

Ready to roll: sirloin tip steak with bread crumb/parmigiano stuffing.

I started out with sirloin tip steaks, as that was what I had left in my freezer. Using the back side of my cleaver, I pounded them thin and cut them into manageable portions, and salted and peppered them. Then I mixed up my filling — a simple mix of seasoned breadcrumbs, grated parmigiano, oregano and thyme. I covered one side of each steak with the filling, and set to rolling.

Each roll got tied with kitchen string, toward either end. Note: It’s simpler to count your steaks, multiply by two, and just cut that many lengths of string before you start. You could secure the rolls with toothpicks if you didn’t have kitchen string on hand; I try to keep it on hand because it’s useful for so many things.

Browning the rolls.

Browning the rolls.

Once they were all trussed, I browned them in a big skillet, on all sides, and then took them out and put them on a plate while I built the tomato sauce. I had a quart of late-season tomatoes reposing on my counter, so after I diced an onion and threw that in the skillet to saute’, I set about cutting those up. Added garlic confit to the skillet, and then the tomatoes, and cooked until they started to cook down.

Building the sauce.

Building the sauce.

As I have not yet found my immersion blender — I guess I’ll just get another one, as I miss it terribly, and then that one will turn up — I dumped it over in the big blender and whizzed it all up. Poured it back in the skillet, and nestled the rolls down in it to simmer. They cooked on low for about two hours, long enough to get wonderfully tender. Sometime during all that, I sauteed a carton of sliced mushrooms from the grocery, and added those to the sauce.

We had it with risotto made in the Instant Pot, which is not quite as creamy good as regular risotto, but is certainly a whole lot less labor intensive, and roasted broccoli. It was a most excellent dinner, and would have been even better had it been on a cooler evening, but I don’t guess we’re ever going to have any of those again.

A really cool presentation of braciole I’ve seen, but never made, is to take a large piece of round steak and stuff and roll it, then braise it in the red sauce. When it’s done, let it cool enough to slice, then put it in an ovenproof serving dish with the sauce and warm it back up for serving.

You can stuff it with any number of things. Chopped, sauteed mushrooms added to the breadcrumb and parmigiano mix would be excellent; you can also add diced sauteed onion or peppers (shudder). A pesto and cheese mix would be good. I could also see using a liver pate, and then topping that with the breadcrumb/parm mix. Use your imagination; play with flavors and textures that intrigue you.

For sauce, make your favorite spaghetti gravy — a marinara, a meat sauce, what-have-you. I like just a plain marinara, but a puttanesca would be good, too, as would a romesco — any red sauce you like. Put the browned rolls back into it, and simmer on the back of the stove for a couple of hours, enjoying the great smells that waft through your house. If you want to up the smell quotient, put a loaf of bread into the oven.

You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em will surely enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon dinner of this.




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