Monday, July 7, 2008

Bracciole, take one. aka Fail.

Update: I have successfully made braciole, you can check it out here

Ok, this one is going to be formatted a little different than my previous posts. First comes the explanation. I have wanted to make bracciole since I had it at Vinnies at Night a couple years ago (live near Somerville, Ma? Go to Vinnies. It is awesome). For those of you who don't know what bracciole is, it's a piece of beef pounded thin then rolled like a jelly roll around things like prosciutto, cheese and egg. Then you braise it in tomato sauce till it's tender and serve it over pasta. It is just as good as it sounds, probably better. So I thought to myself, I can make this. And I tried. And I failed. I would say miserably, but it turned out fine, just not what I was looking for. My mistakes were four-fold (is that proper usage? bah, I don't care).

One: I didn't check to make sure I had all the ingredients before starting. Newbie mistake.

Two: I didn't defrost the beef all the way, so it wouldn't pound flat.

Three: I tried to do something that chefs on tv say "it's so simple". In this case it was slice one thick piece of beef in half horizontally to make two thin pieces of beef.

Four: I got all pissed off.

All of these things combined to thwart my first (but not last, I assure you) attempt at this marvelous dish. What I wound up making was tomato sauce with all the ingredients (except breadcrumbs) for bracciole in it. Then putting that on pasta. It was really good, but not bracciole. I also don't have many pictures of it since I got frustrated and didn't want to deal with it at first. When I calmed down I realized this could be an object lesson in dealing with kitchen mistakes.

First, always, always make sure you have all the ingredients you need. I am telling you this to save you the heartache that I experienced when I realized I didn't have breadcrumbs and so couldn't make the dish how I wanted. Oh, and I don't drive and wasn't leaving the a/c for anything. Second, if you are going to pound meat thin, defrost it all the way or else it just won't work. Trust me. Flattening meat is great for working out anger, but only if it does what you want it to do. Otherwise it will just make it worse. Third, don't believe anyone on tv. Not just the news folk and televangelists, but the cooks too. "All you have to do is do it flawlessly, like I do with my years of schooling and experience." Yeah. Thanks. And lastly, keep your cool. You can't uncut meat that you stab in anger and it won't listen to apologies.

Now here is what I did when I realized I couldn't work the meat. I cut the beef into bite-sized chunks and browned it up in a skillet. Then I browned the onion and garlic and deglazed the pan with some red wine. I like Yellowtail Merlot, it is pretty cheap (I pay 8$ a bottle) and tastes good, if not terribly complex. But I am poor, so what do you want? No cooking wine. Like Julia Child said "never cook with a wine you wouldn't drink". If you don't drink wine, ask someone who does. Seriously. Then I wound up transferring all that deliciousness to a bigger pot so I could fit everything in. I added the beef, crumbled bacon, a couple twists of fresh black pepper, oregano, tomatoes and a pinch of red pepper flakes. I pulled off some of the bigger pieces of fat from the bacon so it wouldn't overpower everything else. This I let simmer over low heat for about 4 hours, stirring frequently so it didn't burn.Burning the sauce would have been the furious cherry on the top of my cooking day. You could toss it in a crock pot too, I guess. When the beef was tender I added the chopped fresh basil and let it cook just a little while longer. I was going to roll up the whole basil leaves into the bracciole, but I just chopped them up and tossed them in the sauce even though it seemed like a lot. Worked out just fine. Then I put pasta in a bowl (cooked pasta, that is. I trust you folks know how to do that) put some mozzarella on it and several big spoonfuls of bracciole-esque sauce mixture on that. Then I ate it. It was very good. If I had managed to make the bracciole I would have seasoned the sauce more, but it didn't need it in this situation. It had a great smokey flavor from the bacon and the fresh basil brightened it up really well. But bracciole, it was not. But if this sounds like something you want to make, here is the recipe.


1 1/2 - 2 lbs of round steak (or some kind of stew beef), cut into bite-sized chunks
28oz can of crushed tomatos
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
2 strips of bacon, browned and crumbled
1-2 tsps oregano
10 or so fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup red wine (REAL wine, cooking wine is a crime against nature. Plus it adds tons of salt)
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt for salting meat
pepper to taste

Salt the beef lightly and brown it up well, in shifts if necessary. Remove it from the pan and brown the onions. Add the garlic and saute till aromatic. Add the red wine and scrape up the browned bits from the pan, simmering it till it doesn't smell boozy. Add the beef back in along with the tomatoes, bacon, oregano, pepper flakes, and black pepper. Simmer till the beef is tender then add the basil. Simmer for another 10 minutes or so then serve over pasta with the cheese of your choice.

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