Braciole al Ragł
Region: Italy, Campania
Difficulty: Medium Difficulty
Braciole are stuffed meat roll-ups popular in the cooking of all southern Italy but especially in Naples and Sicily. They go by other names such as involtini, but for any Italian-American they were always known as braciole and they were always braised in ragł.
Interestingly, the word braciole derives from the word for charcoal, implying that it was originally cooked alla brace, that is, grilled and that it was a cut of meat with the bone. Braciole was once synonymous with cutlet. One finds the use of the word meaning cutlet more commonly in north-central and central Italy, while in southern Italy it also means the boneless slice of meat itself, from beef, pork, veal, chicken, and turkey that gets rolled up as well as the prepared dish. With hard times upon us, braciole make a lot of sense because you can use cheap cuts of meat and stretch them to feed many people as well as feeding many people over many dinners. My moms family, the DeYesos were poor in the Manhattan of the 1930s and for this reason braciole were a terrific way to stretch a dollar, an appetite, and some meat. Our family didnt use wine in their ragj, but I give you that option. The DeYesos also made braciole with pork, but in that case one would find pine nuts and raisins in the stuffing.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings
Preparation Time: 2:45 hours
2 cups (about 6 ounces) one-day old bread crumbs
6 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons soppressata or any salami finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 1/2 pounds beef rump roast, cut into 16 slices and pounded as thin as scaloppini with a mallet
1/2 pound thinly sliced prosciutto
6 ounces pancetta
1 celery stalk
1 small carrot, peeled
1 medium onion
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry red wine (optional)
2 1/2 pounds canned whole plum tomatoes
1. In a bowl, prepare the stuffing by tossing together the bread crumbs, 3 tablespoons of parsley, the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, soppressata, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Lay the beef slices in front of you. Season very lightly with salt and pepper and lay a ½ slice of prosciutto on top. Place a heaping tablespoon or more of stuffing on the end nearest you and roll up the meat tightly, tucking in the sides. Secure the ends with toothpicks and set aside the roll-ups as you continue rolling.
2. In a food processor, finely chopped the pancetta, celery, carrot, and onion using pulses of the machine. This is called a battuto.
3. In an earthenware (preferably) casserole, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat using a heat diffuser if the earthenware is not flame-proof, then cook, stirring occasionally, the battuto until the vegetables turn translucent and the pancetta renders some fat, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the roll-ups to the casserole and cook, turning with tongs, until they turn color on all sides, about 8 minutes. Pour in the red wine, if using, and cook until it is more than half evaporated, about 5 minutes. (If using a regular flame-proof casserole the cooking process may go a bit quicker).
4. Reduce the heat to low, add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the meat is tender and could be cut with a fork, about 2 hours. Stir in the remaining parsley, turn the heat off and let sit for 5 minutes before serving. Remove the roll-ups from the casserole and remove their toothpicks or leave them and warn diners to remove them. Serve the braciole with a little ragł or you can serve the braciole as a second course and serve some spaghetti as a first course with some ragł and parmigiano cheese. Save the remaining ragł for a spaghetti dinner the next night.