Even though we're in no hurry to say goodbye to summer, our minds are already turning to the foods of fall. Sunday-dinner kinds of food, which for us means hearty soups, tailgating dips and appetizers, roasted vegetable dishes and comforting main courses.
Life is busy for most of us during this transitional time of year. To keep things simple around our house, we often find ourselves drawn to the foods we enjoyed from our childhoods. Tony grew up enjoying a Sicilian dish called braciole (pronounced bra-chee-o-lay, or bra-zhul in Sicilian), which are savory bundles of meat stuffed with two or three ingredients, similar in style to a roulade.
Tony recalls how his mother would walk down to their neighborhood butcher, Savoia Meat Market in Toronto, to order the meat and parry back and forth with Mr. Savoia to ensure that she received the best cuts at the best prices. The meat would then be delivered to their home later that day by Mr. Savoia himself, who would stay for a cup of espresso and catch everyone up on the news of the neighborhood.
Tony's mother typically used veal for her braciole, a common meat in the Italian diet, but veal can be difficult to find in our region without making a special order. As a result, we make our braciole using pork tenderloin or beef - sirloin, tenderloin or even flank steak will work just fine.
These meat rolls can be stuffed with a wonderful variety of ingredients. For this recipe we used prosciutto, asparagus and provolone cheese, but you can play around with ingredients like breadcrumbs, fontina, gorgonzola or parmesan cheese, roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, raisins, nuts, spinach, eggplant or whatever tempts your palate.
While variety is great, easy preparation is next in our book, and this simple dish can be prepared up to a day in advance or frozen for later use, so make a double-batch whenever possible. Braciole is also great to make with kids, who can usually be counted on to help pound out the meat "scaloppine style" with great enthusiasm.
Once the meat has been pounded thin, two cutlets are then placed together in an overlapping manner and layered with a slice of prosciutto, followed by a slice of provolone and finally three grilled asparagus spears. If you don't grill the asparagus, Tony recommends cooking them in boiling water for about three minutes before using.
Stick with just two or three ingredients for the stuffing or the braciole will be too thick to roll. When ready, roll from the bottom until the meat has rolled over onto itself. You can use butcher twine or insert toothpicks at this point to keep the roll together, but if you roll them carefully and brown them they should not unravel.
Browning the meat before baking helps the rolls keep their shape and moisture and gives the meat a better texture. For added tenderness, we bake the braciole covered in our easy tomato sauce (recipe is available on our blog) at 400 degrees in a shallow baking dish for about 15 to 20 minutes.
Serve the braciole over a bed of long-noodle pasta like linguini or spaghetti, with a simple salad and a nice Chianti and you'll have the perfect Sunday dinner.
Serves: 4 to 6
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 whole pork tenderloins, cut into 1-inch cutlets
6 slices provolone cheese
18 grilled asparagus spears
Canola or vegetable oil for frying
1 quart tomato sauce
Combine the flour, salt and pepper in a large bowl or shallow baking dish and set aside.
Use a meat mallet and pound each cutlet scaloppine-style to achieve a flat/thin piece (approximately 1/8-¼ inch thick) and at least 5 inches wide and 7 inches long. Try to make them as similar in size as possible.
Place two cutlets on a cutting board or work surface, overlapping one another by an inch. Lay a slice of prosciutto on top of the pork, covering the entire length, then a slice of cheese and top it with three asparagus spears.
Starting from the bottom, roll the pork until it rolls onto itself so that it will not separate. Use a toothpick or twine to secure the roll if desired. Dredge each pork roll in the flour mixture until completely coated, dusting off the excess. For a gluten-free option, skip the flour and just season with salt and pepper.
Heat about a half-inch of oil in a medium or large frying pan over medium-high heat and fry each roll until golden brown on all sides, approximately three to five minutes total. When done, transfer rolls to a baking dish coated in one cup of tomato sauce and cover with remaining sauce. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for 15 to minutes, removing the foil halfway through to brown the meat.
Garnish with Parmesan cheese and freshly chopped parsley and serve over a bed of linguini or spaghetti.
Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple own Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead, Minn., and live in Fargo with their 9-year-old son, Giovanni.