Braciola, a stuffed roll of meat, reminds me of my mom. Not because she made it; actually she never made it. She would talk about it, pronouncing it bru-shah-loh-nee or shortening it to brah-jyohl, and always complain about the eggs in the dish. "Why not take the eggs out?" I asked one day. Well, that's not how my mom cooked. She didn't tamper with recipes, especially family ones. You made them the way the previous generation made them. If you didn't like the dish, you made something else.
Not my philosophy at all, especially when I was younger and just starting to bake and cook. If I didn't like something in a dish, I would want to leave it out, even if it changed the dish altogether. I wanted to put chocolate in everything and take walnuts out of everything. Being the strong-willed child, adolescent and young adult I am was, my mom and I would have debates about how much I could change a recipe while keeping the integrity of the dish. (I still believe you can take those yucky walnuts out of rocky road and still call it rocky road--the marshmallows make it rocky, too, you know.) We'd banter over almost every dish on a menu. Her testa wasn't as dura as mine, so she'd give in more than I would, and some recipes got changed. Well, except the rocky road.
We'd also have debates over the Italian language. My mother and my aunts learned from their parents, and spoke Sicilian dialect. My grandfather passed away when I was two, and my grandmother only taught me a few words. I learned at a private school in San Francisco (they didn't offer Italian at my public school). Many of the teachers were from Florence. The language I learned was sometimes so far from what my mom spoke, she would insist that I wasn't speaking Italian. I was; maybe with an American accent, but I had the words right. I would bring her my Italian dictionary and show her, "See, mom, this is the word for lemon, 'limone', NOT lemuna. This is the word for cherry, 'ciliegia' NOT cirazu" And so it went, with many other words, including braciola.
As I've become older and have cooked more, I realize there should be a balance struck between honoring the traditions and recipes of the past and changing them. Before changing a recipe, I strive to understand why an ingredient is in it and whether it's necessary to the essence of the dish. In the case of braciola, I don't think the eggs are necessary and have actually found other versions without them.
Because the braciola was so popular at the dinner, I decided to treat my aunts to it and make it again (as most of you know, my mom is no longer with us). I told them I was going to make, braciola (pronouncing it: brah-chee-oh-la). Both of them said, "What's that?" Changing my pronunciation, I repeated, "I'm making bru-shah-loh-nee or brah-jyohl." Then they understood. I added, "Oh, and I'm leaving the eggs out."
This pork roll recipe came about after Paula emailed me a recipe from Mario Batali saying she would like it or one similar to it for the secondo (main dish). Mario's was a rolled pork shoulder and had eggs in it. At the time, I was leafing through the My Calabria cookbook I had just received (my prize from a giveaway at My Bella Vita) and noticed that there was a recipe for Vrasciole (dio mio, the Calabresi are just as bad with the dialect). These were individual-sized pork rolls that looked divine. The filling in these Vrasciole was pork fat, parsley, and garlic. Since I often make my grandmother's spiedini (known as involtini to the rest of Italy), I know they take a lot of time to wrap up individually. To save on time, I decided to make a large roll and combined ideas from both recipes that I thought would enhance the dish. As I said, it was a hit. Only the desserts, the Torta Setteveli and Lemon Granita, were more popular. Now, I share the dish with you.
Along with this dish, you can find all the recipes for an Italian (and Sicilian)-inspired holiday dinner here on Food Lover's Odyssey:
Antipasti: Involtini di Melanzane
Primo Piatto: Spaghetti Siracusana
Secondo Piatto: Braciola di Maiale (below)
Braciola di Maiale
Adapted from recipes from Mario Batali and My Calabria by Rosetta Costantino
(Serves 8-10 people)
4 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, bone out, butterflied and pounded to a rectangle about one-inch thick**
About 2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
About 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
About 10 slices prosciutto, either di Parma or San Daniele
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 cup grated Parmigiano Regiano cheese
3/4 cup currants (yellow raisins)
1/2 cup toasted pinenuts
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for the garnish
Rind of 1 lemon, grated
4 tablespoons dried oregano, divided in half
About 1/4 cup extra vigin olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried red pepper flakes
3 cups dry white wine
Two (28 oz. cans) San Marzano tomatoes, peeled and whole
4 cups Chicken Stock
**NOTE: You could ask your butcher to butterfly and pound out the pork shoulder for you.
Open the pork shoulder out onto a working surface and sprinkle the salt and pepper over the meat. Make sure you have a dutch oven or heavy bottom sauce pot that is big enough for the length of the pork shoulder to fit in it. (If not, cut the pork in half.) Lay the prosciutto slices over the meat so that the prosciuotto covers the entire surface.
In a mixing bowl combine the cheeses, currants, pinenuts, breadcrumbs, parsley, grated lemon rind, and 2 tablespoons of the oregano. Spread this mixture on top of the pork, over the proscuitto layer. Roll the pork up tightly and securely tie with twine.
In a dutch oven or heavy bottom sauce pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat until it is translucent. Add the pork roll, and sear all sides until they are all a golden brown. This will take about 15 minutes in total. Remove the pork from the pan; set aside. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Sweat the onions until they are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, and cook another 3 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook about 1 minute more (do not let the garlic brown). Place the pork back in the pan. Add the wine and turn the heat to high to deglaze. Scrap any bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat to a simmer and cover with a parchment paper circle. Cook 2 1/2 hours turning the meat every 15 minutes so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove the meat, cover with foil and let rest for 15 minutes. While the meat is resting, turn the heat up to low, keep the sauce uncovered and let it reduce a bit. Slice the meat into 1-inch thick portions and serve with the sauce and a garnish of the chopped parsley. Buon Appetito!
NOTE: In this case, and to confuse matters further, this roll is really a braciolona (a big braciola), but I called it a braciola initially, so I'll keep it that way.