The Italians I know go all out for Winter holiday celebrations, and this show-stopping beef braciole (aka braciola) is often a centerpiece on the Southern Italian table. This Sicilian (Neapolitan) version includes pine nuts, prosciutto, parsley, garlic and cheese as the filling (raisins if you want the sweet flavor). It is served with high quality rigatoni and a classic, robust tomato sauce. And of course don’t forget a good Italian red wine!
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Key Ingredients for Italian Beef Braciole
The term “braciole” mainly refers to the dish construction (rolled, stuffed meat seared then simmered in tomato sauce for 2 – 3 hours). Over the years this Italian dish has been made with almost any kind of meat, including pork and various cuts of beef.
Sicilian-style braciole with a stuffing of pine nuts, cheese, garlic, and prosciutto has become very recognizable today, especially since it was highlighted in the popular Netflix series “The Bear”.
This Sicilian style version is what my Italian friend and I made (tested twice) and here’s a rundown on the key ingredients:
First of all, choose the right cut of beef. We actually made this dish twice, the first time with a large flank steak, and the second time with smaller thinner piece of top round.
The flank steak version made a large “beef role” that was sliced into about 8 round servings. We did not “tenderize” with a meat mallet tenderizer, and although the large braciole and the individual slices looked beautiful, the meat was a bit tough.
So we made it again, this time using thinly sliced (very thin) top round steak. The slices were much smaller so that each braciola was a single serving in and of itself. In fact a single serving could be two of these little guys.
Many chefs do recommend using top round steak sliced extra thin (Mlanesa-style) and we could see why! So tender, flaky and delicious!
The photo below shows the large flank steak we used the first time. If you use flank steak please do pound it out with a meat mallet!
Whether you use flank steak or smaller slices of top round, the key is slow cooking for 2 – 3 hours in the robust tomato sauce. Also, whether you use a large flank braciole or several small top round little bracioles, make sure and sear them on all sides first before adding the ingredients for this most delicious tomato sauce.
Again, it is perfectly fine to use less expensive flank steak – just pound it well first!
This next photo below shows our second batch of the little top round bracioles, stuffed, rolled, tied and just waiting to be seared and then slow cooked in my favorite robust Italian tomato sauce.
My Italian BFF feels very strongly about the cheese! She insists that only Parmigiano Reggiano (properly aged) and Pecorino Romano are worthy of this dish.
These cheeses can be pricey, but if you are willing to get a large block (2 pounds each), Costco often carries these – great quality and price! You can grate them by hand with a large grater or a microblade kitchen grater.
The Braciole Filling:
The filling for authentic Italian braciole is often very simple and straight forward, using breadcrumbs, cheese, garlic, and Italian parsley.
Different regions of Italy, of course, have developed their own versions of braciole, incorporating in different combinations of cheeses (i.e., provolone, Parmesan Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano.
In Sicily, pine nuts, raisins and sometimes hard boiled eggs are added instead of the breadcrumbs. Some Italian cooks will swear by also adding caramelized onions, and specific herbs such as basil or oregano.
The bottom line is the filling can easily be customized to your family’s preferences.
While my Italian friend is from a Southern Italian family (grandparents from Triggiano, near Bari) and a great cook, she agreed to let me try the Sicilian version shown in the Netflix series “The Bear”, which included pine nuts and prosciutto (we left out the raisins and the breadcrumbs to keep it low carb for me).
She loved the addition of the pine nuts and prosciutto so much that this has become her go-to recipe.
Here are a few popular combinations and substitutions for the filling:
- Raisins with the pine nuts
- Hard-boiled egg
- Red peppers
- Mozzarella cheese
- Parmesan cheese with Romano cheese
- Fontina or provolone cheese
- Pine nuts (expensive, but if you will use them more than once, I suggest getting them at Costco).
The Italian Tomato Sauce
The braciole plays a large part in turning a beautiful Italian tomato sauce into a scrumptious meat flavored sauce. And of course simmering the braciole in this tomato sauce for 2 – 3 hours makes the braciole extra delicious – a marriage made in heaven!
Most Italian tomato sauces seem to be very simple, but because they are so simple you need to use high quality ingredients.
We used canned Italian whole San Marzano tomatoes and crushed them with our hands instead of buying canned crushed tomatoes (which are often processed).
The passata is the Italian form of tomato puree and it is important that the ingredients are simple without herbs and flavorings added.
After those two ingredients are taken care of, a little tomato paste brings the texture together. Many cooks will add red wine to to glaze the bracioles before adding the tomato sauces (we did!).
The tomato sauce is further flavored by the onions, garlic and meat that it simmers with for hours, bringing everything together in beautiful Italian harmony.
**Note: It is also important to get quality rigatoni if you are serving this with your braciole!
Here is a photo of the specific ingredients we used in the recipe below, with the flank steak. Same ingredients by the when we made the braciole a second time with small thinly sliced round steak.
Illustrated Step by Step:
Tip: You can refrigerate the sauce and braciole overnight to serve the following day, serve it the same day and also freeze it for later.
My Italian friend says “Mangia Mangia!!”
Gloria says: “My nonna Caterina Maino Baldino, her daughter, my aunt Rose, and Sicilian daughter-in-law, my aunt Phyllis, and now my cousins and I and their daughters all wear this front snap button apron! Feels like it’s straight from “the old country” as the older generation used to say! You can get one too on Amazon!
And although we love to cook our grandma’s recipes from Triggiano, my personal favorite Italian cookbook is any by Marcella Hazan. “
Southern Italian Braciole with prosciutto and pine nuts simmered in robust tomato sauce.
- 3 pounds top round or flank
- 10-15 cloves garlic chopped/minced
- 3 bunches Italian parsley chopped
- ¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese about 2 1/4 ounces – can use more
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese about 2 1/4 ounces – can use more
- ½ cup pine nuts can use more if desired
- 4 ounces prosciutto (8 thin slices) for one large flank steak or 8 small top round steak slices
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- ½ cup red wine
- 56 ounces canned San Marzano tomatoes good quality Italian tomatoes (San Marzano)
- 48 ounces Italian passata (tomato puree) 2 bottles
- 12 ounces tomato paste (2 small 6 ounce cans)
- 3 inches parmesan cheese rind optional
- 16 ounces rigatoni good quality
- FOR THE FILLED BRACIOLE:
- Lay the thin slices of steak on the counter. Very thin top round probably won't need to be pounded, but if you are using a larger flank steak, pound away to tenderize! Season the meat with a little salt and pepper to encourage the juices to come to the surface.3 pounds top round or flank
- Prepare the filling by chopping/mincing the garlic, chopping the parsley, and grating the cheese.Lay the steaks out flat and sprinkle the filling evenly over the steaks. Start with the prosciutto. Then add garlic, pine nuts, grated cheeses and finally the parsley. One slice of prosciutto for small thin top round slices, and several slices of prosciutto for a large flank steak log.10-15 cloves garlic, 3 bunches Italian parsley, 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup pine nuts, 4 ounces prosciutto
- Now roll the steaks into a roulade (like a jelly roll) starting at the skinniest end, making sure the filling is gently pushed inside the meat as it is rolled.Tie the roulade together fairly tightly with twine, making sure the ends are secured also. This step is the same for both a large single flank steak log, or several small thin top round mini logs.
- In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat and add the chopped onion. Cook for a couple of minutes to soften (not caramelize). Once the onion is ready, add the beef roulades, raise the flame and sear on all sides until evenly browned. Add wine to deglaze. Let wine reduce by half.3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 medium onion, 1/2 cup red wine
- FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE:
- In a large bowl crush the San Marzano tomatoes with your hands. Add the hand crushed tomatoes to the pot with the braciole. Quickly add the cans of puree and tomato paste, gently stirring to meld all the tomato sauces together. Be gentle as you don't want to pull apart the tied braciole while stirring. Add the parmesan rind if using.56 ounces canned San Marzano tomatoes, 48 ounces Italian passata (tomato puree), 12 ounces tomato paste
- Bring to brief boil, then lower the heat and very slowly simmer the meat in the sauce for 2 – 3 hours. It needs to cook gently, barely bubbling. Stir gently occasionally to make sure sauce is not burning on the bottom of the pot. If you think a bit of the sauce might have burned at the bottom of the pot, DO NOT SCRAPE it please! You don't want any burned flavor getting stirred into the sauce.3 inches parmesan cheese rind
- About 20 minutes before the meat is done, cook the rigatoni in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente (still a little firm). Drain and place in a serving bowl16 ounces rigatoni
- Remove the meat roulades from the pot (slice into rounds if using a large flank steak, removing the twine before slicing). You can also remove the twine from the top round steak mini logs before serving if you like. Serve the braciole on a bed of the tomato sauce and pour the remaining sauce over the rigatoni.Celebrate with family and/or friends!! And don't forget a great Italian red wine!