Bring the Braciole: Christmas in Italy

Despite looking somewhat Italian to those who try to crack the code of my ethnically ambiguous appearance, I’m not at all. However, I did grow up eating some pretty awesome Italian food since my Hungarian-side cousins are also half-Italian. Though well fed in that regard, the one thing that was always missing from my Italian food experiences was the big, close (maybe too close?), boisterous family- the kind with a million cousins, aunts and grandmas that gather around the kitchen table every holiday to make enough food to feed all of Italy.  Lucky for me, Apple Crisp hails from one such clan, the Fajiolis, and I’ve been able to spend more than one auspicious occasion with them as an adopted member:  Thanksgiving, Easter, weddings, baptisms…and never is there a shortage of love, laughter and FOOD.  One dish that stands out in my mind was the braciole, though I can’t pinpoint exactly when I had it. Here’s Apple Crisp’s take on how the braciole works its way into her Italian family Christmas.

In many Italian families, braciole is a big deal, prepared ahead of time and served for special occasions, such as Christmas dinner. My family is no different and braciole happened to be a specialty of my grandma’s. Because of the time involved and the sheer quantity needed for so many people (around 30 at the time my grandma was cooking – now nearing 60!), a group of family members would get together a week before Christmas to make the braciole, an event that soon became part of our Christmas traditions. Before my grandma passed away, she taught my cousin, Rob, how to make braciole and over the years, he perfected the recipe – honoring the traditional preparation and adding his own special flair. The braciole parties became a time to celebrate food and family, and usually involved copious amounts of laughter and wine. Sadly, we lost our beloved Rob this year – yet the braciole party went on in his memory. And while it may never be as good as his, I’m sure he was smiling down from heaven, knowing his special dish will still be a part of our Christmas feast!

Braciole is a classic Southern Italian meat dish. It can be found in every region in Italy using different types of meat and is sometimes called “involtini”. My family makes the traditional Neapolitan version – thin, pounded beef, which is stuffed with cheese and breadcrumbs, rolled, tied with string, browned in olive oil, and then simmered in tomato sauce. When the braciole is ready to be served, each roll is removed from the sauce, the strings are discarded, and the rolls are cut into slices and often served with pasta.

A lot of the recipes you’ll see in the next few weeks have been handed down generations by word of mouth and taste of tongue and therefore lack very definite measurements, as you can see below.  Nevertheless, channeling the wisdom of the little old Italian grandma that no doubt lurks within all of us, I followed Grandma Fajioli’s recipe and can only hope I did her proud.

Braciole
Serves 2
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Ingredients
  1. 1 pound smoked bacon, finely chopped
  2. Romano cheese, grated
  3. 3 eggs
  4. Italian bread crumbs
  5. salt, pepper and parsley, to taste
  6. 3 round steaks, thinly sliced and pounded thin
Instructions
  1. Cut up the bacon in a bowl. Add enough cheese to completely cover the bacon. Add enough bread crumbs to completely cover the cheese.
  2. Add seasonings to eggs. Mix with the bacon mixture thoroughly.
  3. Trim all the fat from the meat and pound thin. Usually from one round steak you’ll get two bracioles.
  4. Spread the filling on each piece of steak.
  5. Roll the steak up and tie with a string. Brown on all sides in oil and add to marinara sauce.
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