This past November, my favorite cooking blog The Food in My Beard put up a braciole post, and I quickly marked it on the “to cook list” because it is one of my favorites. My mom makes a mean pot of Sunday Gravy (Italian red sauce for those that didn’t watch the Soprano’s), and she often graced us with her fantastic braciole to go along with it. A variety of meats can be used when making the sauce – the usual suspects are Italian sausage, meatballs, pork loin, and braciole. While meatballs are probably my favorite, the braciole is a treat, an exciting change from your regular ho-hum Italian pasta dish.
When this weekend turned out to be a gorgeous day, and I didn’t have much to do on Sunday, I knew it was time. Time to put a pot of sauce on the oven, crack a beer, catch up on some TV/internet, and stir the sauce just about every 15 minutes for 4 hours. Sunday is probably my favorite day of the week for just this reason; it’s often the best day when you need to do things that require a lot of time without feeling stressed.
The recipe we use for gravy is inspired by the Rao’s Cookbook, a NYC restaurant institution which apparently has fantastic Italian food. If it weren’t impossible to get a table maybe I could confirm this one day. The cookbook has a lot of mouth-watering dishes, but what makes this cookbook great is the simplicity of the recipes. There aren’t any advanced techniques or search-to-the-end-of-the-Earth ingredients. They offer up homemade authentic Italian meals made with traditional, fresh ingredients and patience.
I have a lot of photos of this process, so I’ll dig in. Also worth noting – Broderick from Savory Exposure came by for dinner and took some photos. The last four photos in this post are his, and there are a handful of other photos in the gallery at bottom that are his. His pictures rock and do the food much more justice. Thanks Broderick.
Ingredient #1 – 105 oz of San Marzano tomatoes.
San Marzano (roma) tomatoes can run you a few $$$ if you aren’t careful. I recall seeing a 32 oz can of them at Whole Foods for around $5. That’s $15 for the three cans needed for this recipe. Costco to the rescue – they offer a huge can of them for under $4. Hand crush the tomatoes, removing any basil, tomato skin, and tough stems. Set aside for use later.
Heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat in a large pot. Briefly cook a few whole cloves of garlic, being careful not to burn. Remove the garlic and set aside.
I then added half a chopped onion (a variation from the Rao’s recipe) and cooked for 2-3 minutes, before adding 3 tablespoons of tomato paste which I had blended with half a cup of water. Once the tomato paste mixture is added, stir constantly for a few 3 minutes or so, then add your crushed tomatoes.
At this point, bring the tomatoes to a boil, then add 35oz of filtered water, bring to a boil again, then reduce the heat to simmer. You will want to simmer a fair amount of that water down, which will take at least 2 hours. If the sauce gets too thick, add more water.
While the sauce simmers, prepare the braciole. I am using flank steak ($10 at Costco for the cut pictured above), though you can buy bottom round and cut it into thin slices.
Butterfly the flank steak, then pounded it with a mallet. Take the garlic you removed from the sauce pan and rub it all over the exposed side of the steak. Next, salt and pepper the meat generously. The rest of the filling is chopped flat leaf parsley, bread crumbs, and pecorino cheese – a few tablespoons of each, enough to cover the meat.
Finally, roll it on up and seal with skewers or butcher twine if you have it (preferred).
Once you sauce has simmered down a decent amount, and you are roughly 1.5 hours away from being ready to eat, add the meat to your sauce. Here I’ve put the braciole in the pot, along with six hot Italian sausages. Stir occasionally, ensuring the meat isn’t sitting on the bottom of the pot. Once you’ve done all this, you’re pretty much done!
I served the meat/sauce with linguine, though I often use a hollow pasta like rigatoni. The next day I used gemelli, which also worked well.
This was some of the best sauce I’ve made. Allowing at least 3 hours really helps create a sauce with a fantastic texture. When adding water, any less simmer time will create too thin of a sauce, and without using water, the texture can’t develop as it cooks down too much over a long period of time. The sauce is somewhat “plain”, having very few ingredients, but the flavor is to the point – nothing but tangy, fresh tasting tomato sauce. The meat does impart flavor to the sauce as well, especially from the sausage. This sausage was particularly lean, but when using a really fatty sausage, you will sometimes see grease pool at the top of the sauce while it simmers, which is best to scoop off.
The braciole itself was exactly like I remember; it made me think of Italian pot roast. The meat was tender enough to cut with a fork, and the light filling added just enough flavor to make it interesting. Top off the whole thing with some Parmigiano-Reggiano and you’ve got meal that’s perfect to pair with some red wine and settle in with on a Sunday evening. Oh and don’t forget about leftovers! Enjoy.
We opened up two bottles for this meal, first the La Loggia Barolo, which I picked up from the Monroe Trader Joe’s back in 2007. This wine pretty much sucked. I bought it off the pedigree of the varietal, but I quickly found out why so many CellarTracker users called this wine garbage. It was thin, with a light/water-like color, almost zero fruit, and an unpleasant finish. I’m not sure why this wine sells for $16. I’m learning that Trader Joe’s is not a very good place to go for good wine. It’s like they decided “we’re gonna have one Barolo, one Amarone, one Multipulciano”. They have some decent budget selections, but I recommend going elsewhere in Atlanta went you want something good to drink in the $10-$20 price point.
After the tongue lashing from the Barolo, the next bottle was very welcome. The Querceto Chianti Classico is a fairly well regarded Italian wine costing only $16.99 at Costco ($19 on average nationwide). Chianti has had a bad rap since the straw basket days, but the Sangiovese grape has proven it can produce unbelievable wines.
This wine had a strong color, deep nose of wild berries, a rich/lush (not flabby) mouthfeel, and a slightly hot finish with some hints of chocolate which I enjoyed with the pasta. This would be a good wine with simple pasta dishes, it held up well to the acidity of my sauce, and I could see it doing the same with pizza, particularly with pizza sauce with often has that twang to it. It’s a good price at Costco, which by the way, is the largest retailer of wine (volume) in the US. Their selection is relatively small, but they have some noteworthy wines and they’re often at great prices.