Tag Archives: Beef

PIZZAIOLA (Steak cooked alla pizzaiola with tomatoes and herbs)

Pizzaiola is a classic and very simple Neapolitan dish: young beef, ripe tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, oregano, garlic, seasoning and parsley.  

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These are the simple flavours of Naples, the home of pizza (Campania region of Italy) and like a well made Neapolitan pizza the ingredients are simple and few. There may be some complimentary variations when i napoletani  (Neapolitan people) make this dish, for example the addition of basil or some finely chopped anchovies.

If you look for a recipe on the web, you may be grossly misinformed. And if you want the real thing, pizzaiola is cooked on the stove, no mushrooms, bacon, cheese slices, capers, olives or any other embellishments.

I  have always made pizzaiola as my mother made it and was interested to compare her recipe with those of others. I have varied resources about Italian regional cuisine but because it is a Neapolitan dish it is not widely represented by all of the classic food writers, for example it is not in  The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well (La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene –Pellegrino Artusi 1820–1911), nor in any of my resources by Marcella Hazan or Bugialli. However I was pleased to see that some of the old, celebrity lions and lionesses (e.g. Waverly Root, Ada Boni, Elizabeth David, Anna Gosetti della Salda) include the recipe in their collections.

In some of the recipes, the steak is sealed quickly in hot oil before it is added to the rest of the ingredients. My mother always added the steak raw (as in some of the older recipes) – this results into a much lighter and fresher flavoured dish.

Like my mother, I like to add potatoes to pizzaiola (patate all pizzaiola is also a classic Neapolitan dish and often the two are combined) and the potatoes and the meat cook at the same time. Usually in Italian cuisine dry oregano is preferred (because it is stronger tasting), but for pizzaiola the fresh oregano is also liked – use a generous amount of fresh oregano and cut it finely.

Lean, young beef, sliced thinly is best. I use thinly sliced topside (as photo above) or girello (as in the photo below) and  I vary the amounts of tomato I use, for example I used 4 fresh tomatoes (photo above) whereas I used about 600g of canned tomatoes when I cooked the pizzaiola as in the photo below.

This dish is assembled in layers and then cooked. This recipe is for 4 people:

young beef/yearling steaks, very thinly sliced, trimmed of all fat (4- estimate one per person)
tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, 400g (1 can or fresh)
potatoes, peeled, then cut into thick slices, estimate 1 or more for each guest
extra virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup
garlic 3-4 cloves cut finely
salt and pepper to taste
fresh parsley cut finely, ½ cup
oregano, fresh ½ cup (or dried, 2 teaspoons).
Begin with a dribble of oil, herbs, garlic and seasoning.
Next, add a layer of tomatoes .
Continue with the layers and ensure that the ingredients are just covered with some tomato.
Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are cooked and the meat is tender. This is not a dish to eat the meat rare.
 

 

 

MEAT BALLS or POLPETTE (PURPETTI CU’ SUCU, Sicilian)

I love the Italian language – polpettine, polpette, polpettone, much better than small meatballs, meatballs and meatloaf. (Polpette from polpa, meaning flesh). The Sicilian word for meatballs is purpetti, and even better.

I had bought some beef mince (my butcher selects the meat, shows it to me and then puts it through his mincing machine in front of me – no additives, no preservatives) and I was going to use it to make a fausu magro – a large braciola stuffed with hard boiled egg, mortadella and cheese and braised in tomato passata).

Usually this dish is made with a large slice of beef topside, (a lean cut of beef I buy in Australia) but some Sicilians use mince and I wanted to see what amount of stuffing the mince would tolerate without falling apart in the cooking.  My mother used to cook a large unstuffed meatloaf which was partly based on the cuisine from Trieste where we lived. She called it a polpettone (Italian name for meatloaf) and rightly so because sometimes she braised or baked it using a little white wine and some stock for moisture rather than using tomatoes.

Then a friend arrived unexpectedly from interstate and I had no time to prepare the fausu magru so I made large meatballs instead. It only took about 15 minutes to make the meatballs – they were great.

If you look at recipes for making meatballs, they are always sealed (sautéed in hot extra virgin olive oil) before the braising liquid is added (passata or tomato paste and water) but not this time. A Sicilian friend of my mother’s once told her that where she came from (Agrigento) meatballs were dropped unsealed in the hot tomato based sauce – this results in a much lighter dish. The other thing I did was to add cinnamon sticks and bay leaves to the braising liquid.

As a teenager I had a friend who was from Calabria and her mother would always add sultanas to her polpette. For a short time I also lived next door to a family from Naples. The signora added sultanas and cinnamon to her mixture – my mother was even more horrified about this – obviously this was not part of the Sicilian cuisine that my grandmother knew (my grandmother was born in Catania, on the east coast of Sicily). Both the Calabrese and Napoletana women seemed to add a large proportion of bread to their mixture, much more than I was used to in my mother’s kitchen.

I have checked my many resources and there are Sicilian recipes that list ground cinnamon, dried grapes (currants or raisins or sultanas) and pine nuts in the meatball mixture, as well as the usual ingredients used to make meatballs all over Italy: breadcrumbs (usually soaked in water or milk beforehand and squeezed dry), grated cheese (parmesan or pecorino, depending which part of Italy you come from), salt, pepper, nutmeg, raw egg and a little chopped parsley.

I even found a version in Giuseppe Coria’s Profumi Di Sicilia which lists amaretti biscuits, whole pine nuts and ground pistachio nuts, cinnamon and sultanas as part of the meatball mixture (I can see more meatballs coming!)

Meatballs, of course, were eaten throughout Italy way back in time, and in many other parts of the world, too (maybe not always shaped like a ball) – think of the Greek (sometimes with powdered cloves) and the Middle Eastern lamb variations with coriander and cumin; Swedish meatballs with a cream gravy (tomato-less and much like my mother’s version of polpettone); Vietnemese meatballs with pork mince, water chestnuts and fish sauce; or the Chinese lion head and the oversized pork meatballs from Shanghai cooked in a clay pot. (I could go on, but it is not appropriate for a blog.)

INGREDIENTS

minced beef, 600g
eggs, 2
fresh bread crumbs (from 2 slices good quality sourdough white bread, crusts removed)
cinnamon sticks, 2
grated pecorino cheese, a small handful
salt and pepper
nutmeg, grated, a pinch
parsley, 1-2 tablespoons, sliced finely
bay leaves, 2-3
sun dried sultanas, a small handful
pine nuts, a small handful
extra virgin olive oil, a good splash
passata, 1-2 bottles( or tomato paste and water or tinned tomato)
garlic, 1-2 large cloves, whole
oregano, dried, a pinch

 

PROCESSES

Mix minced meat, cheese, eggs, bread, parsley, salt and pepper and nutmeg together, add pine nuts and sultanas and shape into balls (mine were large- tennis ball size – I was in a hurry).
Place passata, oil and garlic, a little salt and pepper, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and oregano (or fresh basil which I try to do without in winter) in a pan and bring to the boil.
Drop the balls in gently, turn down the heat and do not stir or turn them over for at least 10 minutes (prevent breakage). I like to have the meatballs completely covered with liquid.
Poach them on low heat until cooked (approx. 30mins).

They smell good too and unsurprisingly, the sauce can be used to dress the pasta, the meatballs are presented as second course.

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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.’

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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.

INGREDIENTS
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.
PROCESSES
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

 

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