Braciole di maiale, pork roulades from Naples, are tender like pulled pork, flavoursome like meatballs and saucy like tomatoes. And there’s cheese!
What are braciole?
Braciole are an Italian meat dish of pork cutlets rolled up around herb and breadcrumb stuffing, cooked in tomato sauce. They can also be made with beef, or veal or chicken. They don’t have to be cooked in the sauce, or stuffed. In fact, braciole can refer to simple and plain pork chops as well. Or beef. Or veal.
That sounds awfully confusing until we realise that ‘braciola’ (pl. braciole) means ‘chop’ in Italian. How many different kinds of chops can you think of in English? Exactly.
This recipe then needs only a little more wording to be accurate: braciole involtini ripieni di maiale al sugo di pomodoro, or rolled and stuffed pork braciole in tomato sauce. Either way it’s quite a mouthful. Thank heavens for regional dish names then – we can find exactly what we need as ‘braciole napoletane’!
That is also what is commonly understood as braciole in Italian-American cuisine (aka ‘off The Sopranos’) and in the Australian-Italian cucina. Pork, flattened and rolled up, filled with herb stuffing alla porchetta and cooked slow and low in tomato sauce.
And that’s where I get my recipe from: New York Times Cooking, and Frankies Spuntino restaurant.
What cut of pork for braciole?
As varied as the recipes for braciole can be, there is also flexibility about which cut of pig is going to be flattened, rolled etc. Some people will definitely go for the leanest loin, trimming any fat like lipo surgeons. But it is wrong, so wrong, on many levels.
First off, it’s both hard and pointless to mallet down pork loin slices. It’s a noble cut which should be cooked similar to a steak.
Secondly, all fat trimmed means it’s going to be dry, dry, dry, no matter how much tomato sauce you throw into the pan.
Finally – so expensive! braciole is a family Sunday dish, served to a multitude, hearty and heart-warming instead of posh and pricy.
My choice is pork shoulder, specifically the neck (or collar) end which is beautifully marbled with clean white fat; very malleable to the mallet and, cooked long enough, turns into the tenderest almost-pulled meat.
How to make braciole, Neapolitan style?
There is a bit of work involved there but it’s all quite simple. The meat, bought already sliced or cut into chops at home, about an inch thick, needs to be flattened with a mallet or a rolling pin until it’s half as thick, pliable and spread out over the chopping board.
As ever, season the meat with salt as early as you can, up to a couple of days ahead.
The filling is usually made with herbs, garlic and breadcrumbs, like for porchetta, the big roast version of braciole. I have seen recipes for braciole stuffed with prosciutto or raisins and pine nuts, olives or even eggs, but I like to think my (and Frankies’) option is more classical.
The cheese is Italian provolone, but Gouda or Cheddar will work as well. It’s all going to leak out anyway as it always does but the flavour will permeate into the meat and the melted cheese will enhance the sauce.
As all braised meats, braciole need searing in the frying pan first, before being dunked into tomato-onion sauce and baked in the oven for a longish spell. But if you have an ovenproof pan with a lid, brown the meat straight in it before pouring over tomato sauce.
What to serve with braciole?
The Neapolitan point of cooking the meat in the sauce is to flavour it; and the point of the sauce is to, of course, dress the pasta.
So for the sumptuous Sunday lunch in Naples you would expect the braciole, possibly together with other cuts of meat like pork ribs or meatballs, to be cooked in the sauce for hours but not served all at once.
Primo, Italian first course is pasta: rigatoni or penne, dressed with the meat flavoured tomato sauce. The meat itself however, the braciole and company, are served as secondo, the main course – on their own, barely dressed with whatever sauce clings to them, only with a handful of rocket or a crust of bread on the side.
If that is a strange way of serving food to you, dish it all out at the same time by all means – I do. With that green rocket but without the bread.
More Italian meat course recipes
One of the classics, easy to prepare and yet not as popular in the UK as it should be: osso buco, shin of veal cooked until meltingly tender.
Pasta dishes must not be discussed without mentioning the traditional meat sauce for pasta: ragu.
And porchetta is really one giant braciola, stuffed with herbs, rolled and roasted. I use the same cut of meat for it, pork shoulder, except a whole joint.
More pork recipes
Do you agree that the cheapest cuts are the best? If not, you must try oven braised pork ribs.
Slow and low or hot and quick, that’s the only two ways with pork shoulder steaks. The latter, with sage butter, are ready in about 20 minutes.
From the less-known cuisines come Haitian pork griot: twice cooked chops usually served with pickles.