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The Italian art of stuffing meat with meat


Perhaps it’s the handful of overcast days we’ve had over the last week, the smattering of rain, or maybe just my mood… hearty Italian-American fare has been on my mind. Meatballs, linguine, sausage, roasted peppers... that sort of thing. Comforting, satisfying dishes you can dump loads of parm and pepper flakes on without feeling like you’ve violated some unwritten culinary rule. Something that reminds you of Sunday dinners at your grandmother’s… minus the over-cooked green beans and shelf-stable powdered cheese (though I must admit to having an irrational hankering for said cheese on occasion).

Beef Braciole fits the bill… tasty, meat-filled meat nuggets, browned to perfection and braised in a mixture of tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, and red wine. Think of them as the turducken equivalent in the meatball universe. Plus, you get to use a mallet to beat the meat with… another stress-relieving activity, like roux-making or painstakingly mincing sausage filling with a sharp knife… it’s the journey, not just the destination.

Luckily, the last stop on the Braciole express lands you smack dab in Flavortown. The tomato-wine pan sauce is to die for.  Thickly slice the nuggets, drape them over buttered linguine, drizzle the sauce over the top, and sprinkle with parm, minced parsley, and a few generous grinds of black pepper… a dish worthy of the Soprano family table.

Braciole is best made from thin slices of beef rump, top round, or bottom round. Pork cutlets can be substituted for the beef in this dish. The individual slices are stuffed, rolled, tied, and braised in a combination of wine, stock, and tomatoes. Feel free to improvise with the stuffing… sun-dried tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, porcini powder, a little minced anchovy... anything.

Of  course, a big, beefy Italian dish begs for good red wine. In addition to a good Chianti or Sangiovese, the obvious choice is a well-executed Merlot. We just tried a 2009 Carneros Merlot from our friends at Rombauer Vineyards that knocked this dinner out of the park. Berry notes and a smooth finish offsets the acidity of the tomatoes, intensifies the umami of all that beef, and balances the saltiness of the prosciutto and parm in the filling. Prepare to be thoroughly anaesthetized and Buddha-belly content!

Beef Braciole
serves 4


Purchase from a butcher or slice from a roast:
     Four ¼-inch-thick slices 16-20 ounces four @amount{¼-inch}-thick slices rump, bottom round, or top round; @amount{4 to 5 ounces} each rump, bottom round, or top round steak (4 to 5 ounces each)
Using the flat side of a cleaver or a flat mallet, pound the slices to about ⅛ inch thick, taking care not to tear the meat. Trim any excess fat and pat dry. Season lightly with:
     Salt and black pepper
For the stuffing, mix together:
     1 cup fresh bread crumbs from day-old bread
     4 ounces ground beef, veal, or pork
     ½ cup grated Parmesan
     ¼ cup chopped parsley
     ¼ cup finely chopped prosciutto
     1 large egg, lightly beaten
Spread the meat evenly with the stuffing, leaving at least a 1-inch border all around. Roll up, tucking in the sides to form a tight, neat packet. Tie securely with string, both crosswise and lengthwise. Dredge the rolls in:
     ½ cup all-purpose flour
Shake off the excess. Heat in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat:
     2 tablespoons olive oil
Add the meat packets and brown carefully on all sides. Remove the rolls with a slotted spoon, and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan. Add to the pan:
     ½ cup finely chopped onion
     ¼ cup finely chopped carrot
     2 teaspoons minced garlic
Cover and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add:
     ½ cup beef stock or broth
     ½ cup dry red or white wine
     ½ cup tomato puree or 2 tablespoons tomato paste
     1 bay leaf
Bring to a boil. Return the beef rolls to the pan, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the beef is fork-tender, 1 to 1½ hours. Remove the rolls to a platter and cover to keep warm. Discard the bay leaf. Skim off the fat from the surface of the liquid. Reduce, if necessary, over high heat just until syrupy. Season with:
     Salt and black pepper to taste
Remove the strings from the rolls, cut into 1-inch slices, and drape over:
     Buttered linguine or other pasta shape
Pour the sauce over the meat. Sprinkle with:
     Grated parmesan or romano
     Minced fresh parsley, basil, or oregano


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