Problems With What May or May Not Be an Italian Classic

My mother’s maiden name was Carroccio. She was the second oldest of ten children whose lineage on my grandfather’s side can be traced from Sicily to the edge of the records and back to my great grandparents; two crazy Sicilian kids who grew up miles away from each other on that great big Mediterranean island but never met until in Milan where both were working toward passage to America. Never mind that my mother’s mother was Irish and Irish mingles with but dominates some English, German, Welch, and embarrassingly French blood from both of my father’s parents. Never mind that after my biblical biblical name my middle and last names come straight from the green and poisonless anti-Australia that is Eire. I studied in my Grandpa Carroccio’s kitchen and he was a dentist, by gum!

Pre-dentistry, he worked with his five short brothers in the family creamery in rural New Jersey. They all passed down varied and filtered versions of what had been the family recipe for tomato sauce. I have already noted in these pages or electronic whatevers how my sauce is different from my mothers is different from her fathers is different from my sisters, but I will guarantee that when tomato sauce is served at my house or any of my many cousins Paul’s house one thing is certain: the sauce is homemade. No one just reheats Ragu. You can’t grow up with flavor and settle for bland.

I know Italian food as an American who grew up with what Italian restaurants here strive for. It’s not Mediterranean cuisine per say and I bet there is a good Tex-Mex analogy here, but mine is filtered from the source rather than a desire for the source. I know that pasta must be salted. I know that what is left over from most any meal becomes soup. I know that artichokes need to be peeled down to the choke, braised in olive oil with garlic, mint, and parsley, and if the neighbors come over unannounced and you don’t have enough artichokes you treat those neighbors like cold war trespassers in your bomb shelter.

I’ve not been able to stop looking for different variations on tomato sauce. If there is a food that drives/haunts me, it is tomato sauce. Just jotting down on a pad from the top o me head, I can think of seventeen tomato sauces that I have put my own stamp on and can make from memory. All of this begs the question: Why did I never hear of Braciole until I read about it in Italian Classics by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine?

The recipe in Italian Classics calls for thin strips of beef, pounded thin and rolled roulade style around a mixture of garlic, raisins, basil, flat leaf, pine nuts, and Pecorino Romano to be tied up, seared, and pulled from the pan. Next, garlic, onion, bay leaf, basil, tomato puree, and red wine combine with the browned meat bits stuck to the bottom of the pan to make sauce. The sauce at this point is good, but it’s half of what it will be after the roulades of beef with their stuffing full of herbs and other goodies are put added to braise for two hours. The tomatoes mellow, the beef juices get richer and richer and the wine binds them. Serve the meat and a healthy spoon full of sauce over some penne or rigatoni. The result is velvet.

So why didn’t anyone tell me about this? I understand that dishes have different names and that what we do in America is not necessarily what is done in Italy. Wikipedia makes that clear with an example of the type of straightforward scholarship we have come to expect from them:

“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.”

One thing Wikipedia is clear on is that Braciole as I recounted it above is an American Italian dish while in Italy the term Braciole means meat cooked in it’s own juices or in oil. From this we can be certain that Braciole in Itlay is probably some type of wedding cake. I hate Wikipedia so, so much.

The problem with this sudden (to me) Italian classic as mentioned in the title of the post is the proper meat to use. I asked my butcher. He is a solid butcher and boasts the title of English Sausage Making Champion 1974. That’s hard to verify from here in Alabama as even Google is a bit hazy on the subject, but he makes great sausages, so I take him at his word. He recommended some thin slices from the sirloin but they seized up. I tried some cuts from the round as recommended by Italian Classics. It wasn’t as bad as the sirloin, but it was pretty tough too. This dish will be perfect when I find the right cut of beef to braise when pounded thin. I’ll post it on Wikipedia as the Slovenian variation. Then the world will know the truth.

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5 Responses to Problems With What May or May Not Be an Italian Classic

  1. The Wumpus says:

    Skirt. Not cut on the bias that makes it more tender; cut with the grain. (Carry a gun – tell this to your butcher, and he will likely come at you with a knife.) ((and it’s your favorite…))((( )))

    • Ben says:

      I may send an armed minion. I like my butcher’s cuts of bacon, tuna, everything in fact. If armed is the way this needs to go down, I would like to distance myself politically as much as possible. I bet that fifteen year old me would be disappointed at my lack of armed minions at the ready. The choices we make.

  2. First of all… although my English is not so good, I enjoyed this post: I felt a kind of “food research” not common in general, because if you check on the web, people LOVES to call ITALIAN any kind of stuff, just because they think this will smell perfect (and probably because they used a bit of tomato sauce or mozzarella cheese)!!! But your “Braciole matter” got to the point: why have you never heard about? Just because there is a thin difference between Italian recipes and their names and local, regional ones: and this is one of them… If you are travelling up and down Italy, you will realize that from the north down to Rome, if you ask for a Braciola, you will find in your plate a simple and well cooked pork chop, while if you ask for an INVOLTINO, there it comes the lovely roulade meat with various kind of filling inside. But if you arrive in the South of Italy, there the only Braciola is the involtino, and there is one in particular made with goat meat that its a specific local product, now listed in our Regional book of traditional delicacies (… Sorry for this invasion, but it was nice to read your post from an “Italian point of view”!

  3. When I’m not feeling rageful I just snag the milanese cuts of whatever is looking attractive at the market.. but if I feel like doing the whole meat mallet thing, then skirt. I tried it once with flank steak but it ended up being a smidge fibrous.

    • Ben says:

      I’m in an experimental mood today. I’m doing half skirt and half flank. I’m going to differentiate between them with creative and jaunty knots.

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