What is Braciole?
Thinly sliced, tender strips of steak rolled together with cheese and bread crumbs then fried and slow cooked in a rich tomato sauce…now that sounds like a fantastic dinner! If this also makes your mouth water, then you have come to the right place. It’s time to learn all about the Italian favorite, braciole.
History of Braciole
Before there was braciole, there was involtini which in Italian means ‘little bundles”. Involtini is a thinly sliced meat, usually chicken, beef or pork, which is rolled together with cheese and bread crumb mix. If this sounds like braciole to you, then you are correct! Involtini and braciole are essentially the same dish with different names.
So how did braciole get its name? Well, braciole comes from the cooking technique called alla brace which means grilling the meat over charcoal and also from a cut of meat with bone. Braciole became the more common term to refer to involtini in the Italian American community and has stuck with the dish.
Braciole in Northern and Southern Italy are two very different things. Northern Italian braciole is simply thinly cut pork or veal that is pan fried. Southern style braciole is what is most recognizable today and more closely resembles the involtini described earlier. Sicily, Calabria and Naples all make braciole with cuts of pork and beef, rolled with cheese and breadcrumbs, ties with string and then stewed in a tomato sauce. Slow cooking the rolled meats in sauce is really what braciole is all about.
The most common meats used in braciole are veal, pork and beef top round. However, as the term braciole mainly refers to the dish construction (rolled, stuffed meat cooked in sauce), chefs took many liberties with the dish, making braciole with almost any kind of meat. Pork braciole, beef braciole…it is all delicious!
To perfect the meat for braciole, the already skinny slices are pounded to be as thin and tender as possible and since the meat gets tender in such a manner, it is fine to use cuts that are cheaper. As the braciole slow cooks in sauce for some time, the meat will also begin to soften. In fact, braciole were a low-cost dish for many years, primarily for lower income families. No need to pay for the fanciest slices of meat to make this Italian classic!
The filling for authentic Italian braciole is typically very straight forward- breadcrumbs, cheese and possibly some herbs. Some recipes incorporate eggs into the filling to make it thicker and more hearty while others get creative with cheese combinations using provolone, parmesan and mozzarella together. While it goes against the traditional Italian style braciole, caramelized onions or toasted garlic are also fantastic to roll inside. So many things to try!
Different regions of Italy have developed their own versions of braciole but the Neapolitan braciole is worth noting for its difference to the classic dish. While most braciole has a filling of just cheeses, breadcrumbs, and herbs, the Neapolitan braciole contains pine nuts and raisins for a sweet and savory combination. It is also common to find slices of prosciutto within the layers of Neapolitan braciole. Still cooked in an Italian Sunday sauce, this version is much different from the typical involtini of other Italian regions.
How to Cook Braciole
We are going to focus on a traditional style braciole but keep in mind the many variations mentioned that you can try. Once you have the basic method of authentic Italian braciole down, you can do so much to make the dish your own!
Lay the thin slices of steak on the counter and pound them as flat as possible, then season the meat with salt and pepper to encourage the juices to come to the surface. While the steak is tenderizing, you can work on the filling which is a fairly quick process.
The herbs, breadcrumbs and cheeses are simply mixed together in a bowl to make the braciole filling – how easy is that! The filling is then sprinkled across the thin meat slices. It is best to keep the filling about 1/8 of an inch away from the edge of the meat to prevent it from falling out later on. Begin to roll the meat by starting at the skinniest end and rolling it upward like a jelly roll. The braciole rolls are then tied together with butchers twine or skewered with toothpicks to hold the filling.
Pan sear the braciole in olive oil over high heat briefly, just enough to brown the outside of the roll. You may skip this step, but it definitely adds flavor to the dish. Then, into the sauce the meat goes! This is the part that takes a good amount of time but it is worth the wait. Slow cooking the meat in the sauce will add flavor which truly makes braciole a special dish. Nothing beats braciole in sauce! Authentic Italian Braciole is best when served on its own however you can also serve it on top of pasta.
Authentic Italian Braciole Steak Recipe
This Authentic Italian Braciole Recipe is an amazing version of beef braciole and is great when cooked in a homemade Italian Sunday sauce. Get ready to have your mouth water as this recipe will taste like your Italian grandma made it from scratch!
In Italy Braciole are called involtini, you can probably found a version of this recipe for each region but the most traditional braciole recipe hails from Campania. Try this out and let us know what you think!
- 2 pounds thinly sliced beef
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1 cup grated parmesan
- 1/2 cup grated provolone
- 1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 5 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 cups Tomato Sauce (or your grandmas Italian 'Sunday' Sauce!)
In a medium sized bowl, mix together the garlic powder, cheeses, breadcrumbs, and dried basil. Set the mix aside
Lay the steak on a clean surface and pound flat with a meat tenderizer. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper.
Evenly distribute the breadcrumb filling among the steaks and roll, beginning on the short end, all the way up like a jelly roll. Tie the rolls closed with butchers twine to secure the braciole.
Pour the olive oil into a large pot and heat over medium high heat. Sear the braciole rolls for about 30 second on each side, just to brown the meat quickly.
Add the tomato sauce to the pot and lower the heat to low. Cover and cook the braciole for an hour, basting the rolls occasionally to ensure they do not dry out.
Serve hot along with the sauce!
Interested in an another Italian American classic recipe? Check out the authentic chicken parmigiana recipe and history.