This dish reminds me of Sunday dinners at Nonna’s house, when she would have a large pot of tomato sauce simmering on the stove with meatballs and braciole, or brucioli as we say in the Sicilian dialect. Braciole are thin slices of meat that are stuffed, rolled, and cooked in a tomato sauce. These little bundles of delicacies are traditionally made with veal, beef, pork, and pork skins. They can also be made with chicken or fish. This recipe is for making the smaller braciole. A braciola or the Sicilian farsumagru is one large meat roll.
When making braciole the trick is to have the meat slices as uniform in size as possible. It doesn’t have to be exact. The meat can also be a little larger than the measurements specified in the recipe. You can even patch a few pieces here and there if necessary. The filling usually starts with a seasoned breadcrumb mixture, then slices of prosciutto and mortadella are placed on top. Then comes the salami and cheese, which can be either sliced or in pieces. A piece of hard-boiled egg gives the final touch, and then the meat is rolled up.
In Italy, the sauce is usually served over pasta, and the meat is served separately. Americans like to serve the meat on top of the pasta. I love serving this dish over fresh homemade pasta noodles such as fettucine or papparadelle.
SICILIAN VEAL ROLLS (BRACIOLE) IN TOMATO SAUCE
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
Makes 4 servings.
FOR THE BRACIOLE FILLING:
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onion (about 1/2 medium onion)
1 cup dry plain breadcrumbs
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons dried currants or chopped raisins
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons pine nuts
8 thin slices veal or beef top round (approximately 8-inches long by 4 to 5-inches wide)
8 slices prosciutto or ham
8 thin slices of mortadella, cut in half
8 thin slices of salami (optional)
8 pieces Cacciocavallo or Asiago stravecchio cheese, cut 1/4-inch thick, 2-inches long by 1/2-inch wide
1 hard-boiled egg, cut into 8 wedges (optional)
Salt and ground black pepper
Wooden toothpicks or Butcher’s twine
FOR THE SAUCE:
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 (26 ounce) carton strained tomatoes or 1 (26 ounce) can tomato puree
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5-6 fresh basil leaves
1 bay leaf
A few gratings fresh nutmeg, or a pinch of ground nutmeg
Salt and ground black pepper
1. PREPARE THE FILLING: Using a frying pan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft and translucent. Reduce heat to low. Add bread crumbs, stirring constantly, cook until breadcrumbs are lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat immediately and transfer to a small bowl. Stir in Pecorino cheese, currants, parsley, and pine nuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
2. ASSEMBLE THE BRACIOLE: Lay the meat flat on a work surface. Divide the breadcrumb mixture equally and spread over the meat, leaving a little space along the edges. Place the prosciutto on top, then place two mortadella halves on top, and the salami. Place a piece of cheese and a piece of egg along the bottom of the short end of the meat closest to you and roll the meat over the filling like a jelly roll, until the filling is completely encased. Secure the seam and both ends with toothpicks or tie with butcher’s twine.
3. MAKE THE SAUCE AND COOK THE BRACIOLE: Using a large covered casserole or Dutch-oven, heat the olive oil over high heat. Brown the meat rolls and transfer onto a plate. Reduce heat to medium-high. Add the onion and cook about 4 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Add the tomatoes, wine, sugar, and 3/4 cups water. Stir to scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Cover and bring the sauce to a boil. Add the meat rolls, basil, bay leaf, and nutmeg. Reduce heat to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir occasionally while cooking. Add additional water, as necessary, to thin the sauce. It should not be too thick. Cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until meat is tender.
Discard the bay leaf and carefully remove toothpicks or butcher’s twine from the meat rolls before serving. Serve with sauce and cooked noodles or spaghetti.