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.
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.