BRACIOLE (Meat rolled around a stuffing)

A braciola generally is a cutlet in Italian, but in the south of Italy (and In Sicily) a braciola is also a slice of fish or meat usually rolled around a stuffing. The smaller in size bracioli (Sicilian and plural) are sometimes referred to as braciulini and braciulittini. The most common cooking method is to braise them in a tomato salsa.

Some of you may be more familiar with the Sicilian, large, stuffed, beef roll called farsumagru (falsomagro, in Italian meaning false lean and probably a corruption of farce maigre in French]. Farsumagru is really a large braciola cooked in a tomato salsa and presented sliced.

In the rest of Italy slices of meat or fish rolled around a filling are more commonly known as involtini – made with veal and stuffed with cheese, ham and sage and then fried in a little butter or oil and deglazed with a little white wine. You may know them as saltimbocca or salti in bocca (literally – jump in the mouth). Sometimes involtini are called ucelletti or ucellini and both words mean little birds in Italian (as a child growing up in Trieste, it was common to eat  real little birds on polenta!) .

It is fascinating how words are adapted from one nation to another – in French, rolled beef with a stuffing are also known as birds: oiseax sans têtes (headless birds).

The English (and hence Australians who inherited a predominately an English cuisine) called them olives, or beef olives (to differentiate them from olives from a tree). These were usually stuffed with herbs, a little onion and breadcrumbs as indeed Lynette, my  Anglo-Adelaide-Australian sister-in-law remembers her mother making.

A lark

Food historian and food writer Janet Clarkson (The Old Foodie) says:

The name seems to be an example of folk etymology – the process by which a word is adapted to another use because of some confusion of pronunciation and meaning. In old manuscripts the same dish is called alowes (or aloes or some other attempt at interpreting a word phonetically) – which comes from the French for small birds (alouette is a lark). After some time in England the word became heard as olives, which are also small, round, and stuffed – and there you have it. The idea also explains why they are also called ‘beef birds’ or oiseaux sans têtes (headless birds).

To confuse the matter even further, small flat pieces of meat (or fish) rolled around a filling are also called paupiettes (poupiettes, polpettes etc) – derived from the Italian polpa for flesh, or turbans, which is self-explanatory.

It would appear that thin slices of pounded veal or beefsteaks rolled around a stuffing are part of many cuisines. For example the Germans have rouladen, the Maltese have braġjoli, and the Argentinians prepare matambre arrollado.

What you see in the photos are one version of braciole, (plural form of braciola). These little parcels are made with what is called ‘veal’ in Australia, but as you can see the meat is a darker red than what is called veal in Italy (animal is still milk fed and pale in colour). In Australia I have also heard it called ‘yearling’ – not a calf and not quite fully-grown to be called ‘beef.’


There are many regional variations to stuff braciole, the two most common are hard-boiled eggs, sausage mince or preserved meats and the other is a mixture of breadcrumbs mixed with herbs, grated cheese and raw eggs. In Messina (north east coast of Sicily) pine nuts and currants are often included in the bread mixture. I like to add grated lemon peel to this version.

These braciole in the photos have a fairly common stuffing of ham, cheese and hard-boiled egg and they and braised in a simple tomato sauce.

The photos were taken in Lynette’s kitchen; we used the tomato sauce to dress the pasta and presented the braciole as a main course (with salad). The parcels may not appear to be wrapped as beautifully as they could have been; we had eleven for lunch on Sunday and after stuffing artichokes we prepared the eleven braciole in a big hurry. Each should look like a mini torpedo with one row of string along the longest part first and the trussed laterally. But this did not matter, they tasted good and the filling was secure. Cut the string and remove it before you bring it to the table; surprisingly they do not fall apart.

Veal or beef (topside, flank) trimmed and pounded thinly – 1 per person.
1 slice of either: prosciutto cotto (cooked ham), mortadella, or thin salame.
1 hard-boiled egg (whole)
1-2 cheese slices: (caciocavallo would be used in some parts of Sicily), pecorino or provola.
Extra virgin olive oil, dry red wine, tomato passata, oregano or basil, salt and black pepper.
Pound the steaks to about 5mm thick.
Place one slice of prosciutto cotto over each steak, follow with cheese and lastly with the egg. Roll up to enclose the filling and secure with string (some use toothpicks).
Place the olive oil in a large frypan and over medium-high heat sauté the rolls for 3-4 minutes, turning them, until lightly browned on all sides. Remove them from the pan.
Add wine to hot pan and evaporate for a few minutes.
Add the passata, bring to the boil and add braciole. Reduce heat and cook gently for about 30-40 minutes.
Stuffed artichokes, see recipe



14 thoughts on “BRACIOLE (Meat rolled around a stuffing)”

  1. Just found your blog recently. Great info and recipes. I’ve been reading a few books about Sicilian food just lately (Mary Taylor Simeti. All new to my Anglo culinary heritage! Looking forward to trying some of your recipes too!

  2. Thank you. It is so good to receive comments and hear that readers are trying recipes. Although I have about 140 readers per day, not many leave a response.

    I too much respect and admire Mary Taylor Simeti’s research and writing – Do you know her other books about Sicily?
    They are: ‘On Persephone’s Island’, ‘Travels with a Medieval Queen’ and ‘Bitter Almonds’ (with recipes from Maria Grammatico, a pastrycook from Erice).

    Did you also know that Mary is coming to the Sydney International Food Festival In October?
    Regards, Marisa

  3. I have made various versions of “braciole”. My favourite is with a stuffing of breadcrumbs, cheese, raw eggs, parsley, garlic and bacon. These I originally called “beef olives” until my fussy son came along. I thought he would be put off with the name so renamed them “beef birds”. Now to my surprise I find this is really a name for this delicious meat “roll ups”! Wow, this is such an informative post. Thanks! I now know what we are having for dinner tonight. PS Mary is really coming to Sydney in October? That would be fantastic to go to!

  4. Thanks Marcellina, you have left comments before. You seem to do a lot of cooking and enjoy doing it.

    Yes, you guessed correctly, they are called ‘beef olives’ but some of the stuffings for the English recipes leave much to be desired.I hope that you have told your son that you were correct after all.

  5. HI Marisa
    I’ve just finished ‘Bitter Almonds’ and am reading ‘On Persephone’s Island’. I got them from the library but think I’m going to have to buy them now! How cool that she’s coming to Australia! Don’t know if i’ll get to Sydney to see her, but hopefully will read some media about her visit. thanks for the info.

  6. Great,I will let her know that she has fans in Australia. She will be pleased.It may also mean that some of her books may be republished.

    Unfortunately the sessions in Sydney are expensive, but I am assuming that there may be some recordings/ radio programs.

  7. Yes, Marisa, Mary definately has fans in Australia. I will look up the Sydney Food Fest for more info! Thanks!

  8. What luck to find your blog!!!! I am a Texan, 2nd generation Sicilian-American and it is like finding gold to see your Bricole, or braciulini and the stuffed artichokes recipe!
    You are my new best friend!!!!

  9. hi Dolfina,
    I do not know what Scardellini are and the only dead man’s bones I am familiar with are the clove flavoured sweets shaped like human bones which are found in certain parts of Sicily on 2nd Nov (ossi di morto). and I am sorry but I do not have a recipe. I also suspect that they are made by pastry cooks and not in the home.

  10. Thanks for posting this! We’ve always called it braciulini in my family. My Nana (from Villa Franca, Sicily, just south of Palermo) always made this on Christmas. When we got married, my wife (100% German descent) went to Nana’s home and learned to cook all of my favorite dishes. She just make our variation of braciulini last night. This year, I talked her into making smaller ones, instead of the one large roll. Can’t wait for Christmas day!

    1. I hope that you enjoyed your braciulini for Christmas. I am pretty sure that the Germans also have rolled, stuffed meat but not cooked with tomatoes.

  11. Great article, thank you. Obviously, there are variations for the braciole filling. Our Sicilian family omitted the thin slice of ham/sausage but added a good amount of breadcrumbs, and always used Pecorino.
    I had never seen the term “Farsumagru”, understanding it to mean a large sized braciole which is sliced. This is how we made and served them but always just referred to it as “Bracioloni”.

    1. Thank you, yes there are variations. In some parts of Sicily sardines are stuffed with bread crumbs and pecorino, also eggplant slices and peace spada.

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