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Braciole: Winter weekend comfort food

 

Braciole is a stuffed meat roll which is seared briefly, then simmered in a wine-y broth for hours. Braciole is not a fast fix, so it is perfect for a lazy post-holiday weekend meal. It is Italian comfort food of at its best, warm and satisfying like a big hug from your nonna.
Braciole is also a great way to use up leftovers. Any odd bits and pieces of cheese, vegetables, or cold cuts that have been hanging around in the fridge long enough can happily mingle with breadcrumbs, eggs and seasonings to create a wonderful filling. There are no rules for the filling, so go with what you love and have on hand. I’ve used bits of bacon leftover from breakfast, spinach, a few dry-ish slices of salami and provolone, the remains of a minestrone, day-old bread, a lonely Portobello mushroom and a rather elderly chunk of parmesan with great success. If you want to use fresh veggies, there is no need to pre-cook them, as long as they are chopped rather fine…braciole braises for a long time. Basically, just throw a bunch of stuff into the food processor with an egg (as a binder) and enough breadcrumbs to create a filling which is about the same texture as your basic poultry stuffing.
Most braciole recipes call for flank steak, which used to be a cheap cut of meat, but nowadays is a bit pricey. It has great flavor, but I prefer a thin cut of chuck, top or eye round steak. These cuts are often on sale and I find them easier to flatten out and roll up.
To serve four, buy a 1 ½ lb. piece, the thinner the better. Moisten the meat with a bit of water and, with a meat mallet, pound the steak very thin, being careful not to tear it. (Julia Child used to suggest that you try to imagine you are using a bottle of wine as a mallet…I tend to be more forceful). Try to aim for a rectangular shape. Dredge in seasoned flour and refrigerate while you prepare the filling.
To assemble the braciole, simply spread the filling almost to the edges and roll it up firmly, jelly-roll style. Tie with butcher’s twine every two inches or so.
In a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil to almost smoking. Sear the braciole on medium high a few minutes on all sides and remove. (Don’t worry of bits of filling fall out.) Add about 1/3 to ½ bottle of good red wine and bring to a boil. Lower heat and let simmer a few minutes. Return meat to the pot seam-side up and add beef stock or bouillon to almost cover the braciole. Add bay leaves, salt, pepper, garlic cloves (lots!), basil and oregano as desired. Partly cover with lid and simmer 2-3 hours until fork tender.
Remove from pot when done and let rest on platter while you boil and reduce the broth another 10-15 minutes. Cut into thick slices and serve with pasta or crusty bread and a simple salad.
The leftover broth is a fabulous base for soup!

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