I’ve brought you something extra special today! A delicious, traditional dish from Italy with a combination of flavors that will make your taste buds sing!
Proscuitto is wonderfully versatile in entrees, appetizers and hors d’oeuvres. It’s featured in today’s dish, Braciole di Manzo, as a central part of the filling. It adds a flavor dimension to this traditional Italian dish that is out of this world delicious. The flavor of the prosciuotto is not only infused into the slow-simmered beef, its flavor is melded into the tomato sauce which forms the base for the accompanying pasta dish. Though this dish is enjoyed throughout the year, it is especially befitting the holiday season.
First, what is Parma ham? Is it different than prosciutto? The art of curing ham dates as far back as 100 BC near the town of Parma, Italy and there are many brands of prosciutto available on the market today, with varying degrees of quality. But only one kind can legally be called “Parma ham.” By law Prosciutto di Parma can only be made in region of Parma, Italy. This region has unique conditions that enable the meat to dry in such a way that it produces the highest quality hams. In order for it to be called Parma ham, it must conform to a very strict set of standards and specifications. Among other factors, Parma ham must be cured for at least 12 months, usually for closer to 2 years. This year Parma ham is celebrating its 50th anniversary since the Parma Ham Consortium came together in 1963 to establish these standards for their proscuitto.
My first encounter with Parma ham was in England when I was 18 years old. While going to college, I worked as the manager of a delicatessen. I was always excited to order and try new products. One such product: Parma ham. I had never heard of it up until that point. It was the most expensive item on the list by far and I was curious. So I ordered one and when it arrived I opened the box, anxious to see what it was. I raised an eyebrow as I pulled out a huge, heavy pig’s leg, skin intact with a few stray coarse hairs still in place. I put it out for display in the deli case and soon had customers asking for it, sliced extra thin. I got quite the workout hoisting that thing on the meat slicer and lugging it in and out of the deli case. It took a few days before I finally shaved off an extra slice to try. And when I did I realized it was something special. I often put out samples of it, wrapped around fresh melon, and they never lasted long. I wish now I had sampled more freebie slices while I had the chance!
On to the Braciole di Manzo!
“Braciole” is the term used here among American Italians. This same dish in Italy is known as Involtini di Manzo, involtini meaning “little bundles,” the more accurate name for it. But we’ll refer to this dish by the name it’s more commonly known as over here in the U.S.. While at first appearance this dish may look a little time-consuming, it really isn’t. The rolls can be made a day ahead and then simply browned and added to the sauce to simmer. And as for the 3 hours of slow simmering – it doesn’t need to be stirred, so you can let it do its thing undisturbed while you do yours.
Bracioles, usually beef (but can also be pork or chicken) can consist of a variety of fillings, most commonly some kind of combination of bread crumbs, herbs, garlic, and sometimes cheese or pancetta. This version also includes pine nuts and raisins, two kinds of cheese, and instead of pancetta uses this delicious prosciutto. These flavor combinations meld together beautifully. The tender, juicy stuffed beef rolls are exquisite and the slow-simmered tomato sauce is worthy of taking center stage in its own right.
Note: The long simmering process isn’t an absolute requirement, but the old-fashioned way is to slow simmer it like in making a ragù. This yields the most flavor, allowing the juices from the meat and the filling to mingle with the tomato sauce, making a wonderful sauce for the pasta.
I had a lot of fun making these bracioles. I hadn’t listened to Eros Ramazzotti in quite a while so I cranked up my Italian music for added inspiration while preparing this dish. (If you’re not familiar with Ramazzotti, my two favorite songs of his are Fuoco Nel Fuoco and Emiozione Per Sempre. The latter song comes from the last album I purchased in Europe before moving to the U.S.. In fact, there I was in the kitchen getting misty-eyed to song that’s not remotely a misty-eyed kind of song! I know it’s silly, but these songs brought on a wave of nostalgia and I can’t help it – I’m hopelessly sentimental.) And of course I had to throw some Mario Lanza and Rocco Granata in there too just for a little old school Italian touch.
Okay, pass the proscuitto and let’s get started!
Let’s take a look at the different ingredients that go into making this special dish:
You’ll need a few thin cuts of lean beef (usually top or bottom round roast). There’s really no right or wrong in terms of what size to get. If you’re serving 4 people, you can either assemble 4 medium-sized braciole’s or 8 small ones.
Part of the filling consists of pine nuts, raisins, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and herbs.
And then there’s the crowning touch – the prosciutto. And we’re going to add some tangy Provolone cheese to the filling as well.
The sauce is going to consist of tomatoes, garlic, onions, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh herbs.
…and of course a glass of red wine.
And there you have it! The beautiful, fresh ingredients that go into making this fabulous, authentic Italian dish!
Okay, let’s make Braciole!
Pound the meat to about 1/4 inch thickness between two pieces of plastic wrap – use the flat side of a meat pounder. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Combine the milk-soaked breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, rosemary, garlic, pine nuts, and raisins in a small bowl.
Crush the tomatoes in a large bowl with your hand, discarding the hard cores. Set aside.
Lay a piece of prosciutto on top of the slice of beef, followed by a slice of Provolone, then place a tablespoon or so of the filling (depending on what size of beef rolls you’re making) in the center.
Fold in the sides of the roll, lengthwise, fold in one end…
Then roll it up, starting at the non-folded in end, pushing and wrapping it tightly.
To secure the rolls, you can use toothpicks or, like I did here, wrap them “gift package” style with some thread. Just remember to remove it, or the toothpicks, before serving!
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven (I use and love Lodge) over medium-high heat. Add the rolls, seam side down to seal them.
Generously brown the rolls on all sides. The browning is essential to adding flavor. And don’t discard the burnt browned bits on the bottom of the pan! Also essential to flavor.
Transfer the rolls to a plate and set aside. Saute the onions and garlic until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the red wine and bring to a boil, cooking until the wine is mostly evaporated, about 3-4 minutes, deglazing the pan (scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan).
Add the crushed tomatoes, salt and freshly ground pepper. Simmer for 3 minutes.
Return the beef rolls.
Add just enough water to cover the rolls so they are submerged. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 3 hours or until fork tender.
Mmmm, the aroma when you finally open the pot! Add the fresh basil and parsley and simmer for another 2 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste. You’re masterpiece is done!
Traditionally, the braciole are served as the second course (along with a leafy green salad, for example), and the first course is pasta tossed with the delicious tomato sauce. Serve it all together or separately – however you prefer.
Braciole di Manzo (Italian Beef Rolls in Tomato Sauce)