Hubby and I greatly enjoyed Zen, the new Masterpiece Mystery that debuted last Sunday on PBS:
What does an honest cop do when his bosses are on the side of the lawbreakers? Outwitting prosecutors, politicians, mobsters and run-of-the-mill kidnappers and killers, Detective Aurelio Zen brings justice to modern-day Italy, whether the authorities want it or not, on Zen, a trio of spellbinding cases based on the bestselling novels of by British crime writer Michael Dibdin, airing on Masterpiece July 17-31, 2011.
Rufus Sewell (Middlemarch) stars as Zen, a Roman police detective hailing from Venice, where “Zen” is a local shortening of the name Zeno. Separated from his wife and living with his mother, he is too frazzled by his job to think about romance. That is, until he meets Tania Moretti (Caterina Murino), his chief’s new secretary.
Russell Sewell. Rome. Mystery character we haven’t read or heard of until now. What’s not to like? (Last week, before I’d seen the first episode, I’d mistakenly thought it took place in Venice, as well — but the protagonist is Venice-born and works in Rome. Actually, I’d thought it might be — the description does say “Roman police detective.” I’m blaming the heat for my error 😉 )
In honor of this latest Mystery series, I’ve vowed to make us something Italian for supper for each Sunday Zen airs. 🙂 (I mean, are we easily entertained, or what? 😉 *LOL*)
It’s been so h-o-t here that I’ve been casting about for dishes to make that don’t use the oven *shudders at the thought of the oven in this heat* and that are maybe a bit different in some way than the Italian-style dishes I make with some regularity. Last Sunday, I tried my hand at making CrockPot Spaghetti and Meatballs , and it turned out mighty yummy!
So this Sunday, I’m trying my hand at something completely different and new for me. Something I’ve never even eaten before, much less attempted to make. I am going to try my hand at making Beef Braciole.
I first heard of braciole one idle afternoon when I had “Everybody Loves Raymond” tuned in on the little TV in my kitchen — I was either puttering about in the kitchen or exercising on my elliptical/stepper (yes, I have an elliptical/stepper and I work out on it when the weather’s not sweltering, honest!), I can’t remember which now.
Anyway, for those unfamiliar with the show, it’s a sitcom centered on a family. One of the running jokes on the show is that Debra, Ray’s wife, is a poor cook — at least in comparison to Ray’s mother, Marie. One Thanksgiving, Debra described Marie’s gift with roasted turkey and the trimmings by saying “The woman’s got giblets in her blood!”
In one episode, though — the episode in question — Debra actually mastered a dish (trust me, even if you’re not an “Everybody Loves Raymond” fan, watch the clip):
Braciole? I’d never heard of braciole before, but as the show continued, my interest grew (once again, trust me — even if you’re not an “Everybody Loves Raymond” fan, watch the clip; it’ll help you understand my growing fascination with braciole):
As it turns out, braciole is an Italian version of a roulade. As Wikipedia tells us:
The word roulade originates from the French word “rouler” meaning “to roll.” Typically, a roulade is a European dish consisting of a slice of meat rolled around a filling, such as cheese, vegetables, or other meats. A roulade, like a braised dish, is often browned then covered with wine or stock and cooked. Such a roulade is commonly secured with a toothpick or metal skewer, piece of string or spinach.
Braciola (plural braciole, pronounced /bræˈtʃoʊli/) is the name of an Italian dish. Braciole are simply thin slices of beef pan-fried in their own juice, or in a small amount of light olive oil. It is served with a green salad or boiled potatoes.
In Italian American cuisine, braciole (the word is commonly pronounced /bra’zhul/ from the Sicilian dialect) is the name given to thin slices of meat (typically pork, chicken, or beef, but even swordfish) that are rolled as a roulade with cheese and bread crumbs and fried (the bread crumbs are often left off). In the Sicilian Language, this dish is also called bruciuluni and farsumagru, which the former is an older name used among Sicilian-Americans in Kansas City and New Orleans and the latter term is Italianized as falsomagro; moreover, two other terms exist that may, or may not, be identical to one another, involtini and rollatini, which rollatini can be spelled several ways and it is not truly an Italian word.
Braciole can be cooked along with meatballs and Italian sausage in a Neapolitan ragù or what some call, ‘Sunday gravy.’ They can also be prepared without tomato sauce. There exist many variations on the recipe. Changing the type of cheese and adding assorted vegetables (such as eggplant) can drastically change the taste. Braciole are not exclusively eaten as a main dish, but also as a side dish at dinner, or in a sandwich at lunch.
What are known as braciole in the United States are named involtini in original Italian cuisine. Involtini are thin slices of beef (or pork, or chicken) rolled with a filling of grated cheese (usually Parmesan cheese or Pecorino Romano), sometimes egg to give consistency and some combination of additional ingredients such as bread crumbs, other cheeses, minced prosciutto, ham or Italian sausage, mushrooms, onions, garlic, spinach, pignoli (pine nuts), etc. Involtini (diminutive form of involti) means “little bundles.” Each involtino is held together by a wooden toothpick, and the dish is usually served (in various sauces: red, white, etc.) as a second course. When cooked in tomato sauce, the sauce itself is used to toss the pasta for the first course, giving a consistent taste to the whole meal.
After being stuffed and rolled, braciole are often tied with string or pinned with wooden toothpicks to hold in the stuffing. After pan-frying to brown, the rolls of meat are thrown into the sauce to finish cooking, still secured with string or toothpicks. In informal settings, the string is left on when the meat is served, and everybody removes their own string as they eat (toothpicks are best removed before serving).
Color me intrigued!
So as I pondered what to make for our Italian meal in honor of this second episode of “Zen,” I thought “Why not try braciole?”
And so, I Googled, and here’s an overview of what I learned:
- Braciole can be made from beef, chicken, pork, or even fish, but many feel that beef is the one and only way to do it.
- Flank steak — which is rather pricey — is often called for — but I have learned that one may use almost any lean cut of meat (sirloin, round steak, a roast that you cut into steak-like thickness, etc.). I purchased some round steak, which is lean but more affordable than flank, sirloin, or London broil.
- Low and slow cooking is de rigueur to ensure the lean meat ends up fork-tender. Many recipes call for baking, but it’s h-o-t and I don’t want to use my oven. Fortunately, simmering on the stove-top will cook it “low and slow” just as well.
- Many contend that the stuffing should be seasoned bread crumbs (made from good quality bread) and cheese, all bound together with an egg. Raisins or currants and pine nuts are also often included, and sometimes pancetta. I gotta say, none of that –except for the cheese — really appeals to me, so I was thrilled to learn that one may use a variety of items for the filling.
- Leave 1/3 of the roll without filling — this will make for a neater roll and help the filling remain inside the braciole as meat on the outermost edge of the braciole sears and seals to itself.
I found inspiration from countless recipes and I found these three videos especially helpful and informative:
I searched for cooking twine, but couldn’t find any — I’ve made a mental note to search again at Thanksgiving and purchase some then, when it will likely be plentiful. So instead of cooking twine, I’m using unflavored dental floss.
I got some round steak, but the butcher couldn’t cut it in a more steak-thickness at the time, so I ended up having to “butterfly” the two thick pieces and then pound the heck out of it (I hadn’t realized until I was done, but I actually blistered one of my fingers, I hammered with the meat mallet for so long!). Note: If you don’t have a meat mallet, the flat side of a hammer will work.
As for the filling: I’ve got some mozzarella and Parmesan that I need to use, so I’ve incorporated that, and also a package of frozen spinach, which I thawed, drained, and squeezed dry. I tossed in some bread crumbs (made from some good quality bread I had on hand), seasonings, and an egg to help hold it all together.
For the sauce, I’ve doctored up a tin of my favorite commercial sauce — Hunt’s Garlic and Herb. Yes, I could make sauce from scratch, but I think building on a commercial sauce as a base will be the simplest and easiest way to have just enough tasty sauce.
Rounding out the meal: marinated tomato salad (a tossed green salad would be lovely, too), pasta (most likely angel hair, as I somehow ended up with a lot of it in my pantry), and Italian bread from the bakery (it’s from last week, actually, but has kept quite well in the ‘fridge) that we’ll eat buttered, as garlic toast (made in the toaster oven!), or seasoned with a bit of olive oil.
Now, this recipe calls for 3 pounds of beef. “But, but, but,” you’re asking me, “why make so much?” Several reasons, actually:
- Even though I’ve never made braciole before, when I realized that using spinach in the stuffing appealed to me, I figured it would make enough stuffing for about 3 pounds of meat.
- My beloved — who’s a long, tall, drink of water — has a hearty appetite.
- I wanted to ensure leftovers, either to freeze for later or to eat soon as another meal.
- I wanted to make the sauce easy, hence the 26-ounce can of Hunt’s Garlic & Herb, which, I calculated, would render just the right amount of sauce to simmer about 3 pounds of braciole and dress any accompanying pasta.
I’m hoping that my hubby’s reaction to my braciole will be similar to Frank’s on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” 🙂
Spinach-Stuffed Beef Braciole (I would say this should make about 6 to 8 servings, depending upon the appetites being fed and the sides that accompany it)
- 3 pounds lean beef (ideally two 1 1/2 pound steaks: round steak, sirloin, flank steak, whatever is the best buy at your store)
- 1 egg or equivalent in egg substitute
- 1 package (10 ounces) frozen spinach, thawed and drained/squeezed dry
- Shredded/grated cheese to taste (I used some Parmesan and a bit of mozzarella)
- Fresh bread crumbs to taste
- 1 stalk (or more) celery, finely chopped or whizzed up in food processor
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped or whizzed up in food processor
- 1 to 2 carrot(s), finely chopped or whizzed up in food processor
- Healthy splash of red wine
- Splash of olive oil
- Can or jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce (I like Hunt’s Garlic & Herb)
- 1 small can (6 ounces) tomato paste
- 1 or 2 beef bouillon cubes or equivalent
- Sliced mushrooms (if desired — I had some on hand, so have added them in)
- Seasonings to taste: bay leaf(ves), basil, oregano, Italian seasoning, parsley, garlic powder and/or minced garlic, rosemary — I use fresh from our herb garden, but dried will work, too — red pepper flakes, splash of Worcestershire sauce
- Place beef between two pieces of cling wrap. Beat with the smooth side of a meat mallet until thin (about 1/4″ — you’ll want it thin enough that you can spread filling on it and roll it).
- In a small to medium-sized bowl, mix together (with your hands or a fork) the spinach, cheese(s), bread crumbs, dry seasonings to taste, and the egg.
- Sprinkle beef lightly with salt (I used coarse ground sea salt) and pepper (I used coarse-ground pepper). Spread filling onto beef within about 1/2″ or so of the edges. Leave about the last 1/3 to 1/4 filling-free.
- Roll tightly. Secure roll(s) together with cooking twine (or unflavored dental floss), toothpicks, or skewers.
- In a non-stick Dutch oven (deep cooking pan) or a deep, large skillet, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat for about a minute or so.
- Sear braciole on all sides in skillet. Remove and set aside.
- Sauté finely minced onion, celery, and carrot until it begins to soften. Add in minced garlic.
- Put in a healthy splash of red wine. Stir in favorite commercial spaghetti sauce and tomato paste (remember, slow cooking adds in liquid, and the vegetables will give off liquid, as well, so I wanted the sauce overly thick to start with). Add beef bouillon and seasonings to taste.
- Return braciole and any accumulated juices to pan. Spoon sauce over braciole. (NOTE: I have some fresh mushrooms on hand, so I sliced those up and added them into the sauce, as well.)
- Simmer, covered, over low heat, gently stirring occasionally (and gently turning braciole occasionally), until meat is tender, two to three hours.
- Remove braciole and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing. (Remove twine, toothpicks, or skewers before slicing.)
- Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.