Anyone who is a fan of American mob movies such as Goodfellas or Sopranos will be familiar with the term Sunday Gravy. It’s an American Italian institution which involves a long simmered tomato sauce made with copious cuts of meat – everything from meatballs, pork ribs, sausages and most importantly, braciole. Braciole is a thin piece of beef, normally flank steak, that has been pounded out and then covered with a mixture of cheese, herbs and garlic and then rolled and tied in string. The idea of Sunday gravy is that the sauce is started in the morning and the various cuts of meat added as it simmers the whole day long, filling the house with amazing aromas until it’s finally dinner time at which point the meat is separated from the sauce, which of course tastes phenomenal from all the hours of long slow braising, and the meal is divided into two courses. The first course is the tomato sauce which is served with pasta and the second course consists of the meats with the braciole in the starring role, untied and cut into slices. Now this is a Sunday tradition I could get used to! My version is a little less heavy on the cuts of meat used but every bit as tasty. I like to make several small size braciole rather than one large one and I also like to serve the pasta with the tomato sauce and braciole at the same time – some of the slices adorning the top of the pasta and the rest on a platter in the centre of the table for everyone to help themselves. This dish takes a little bit of time to prepare and cook but it’s certainly not complicated and the rewards far outweigh the work.
Ingredients – Serves 6, generously Adapted from Antonio Carluccio
500g dried paccheri pasta – you could also use rigatoni, spaghetti or macaroni
½ cup Parmesan, freshly grated
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the Braciole:
6-8 large thin slices of beef pounded out thinly, you can use rump, flank steak or skirt steak
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
4 tablespoons raisins
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced or grated
6 tablespoons Parmesan, freshly grated
3 tablespoons pine nuts
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
For the Sauce:
Large pinch of chilli flakes
2 onions, peeled and finely diced
100ml dry white wine
400g minced beef
800g canned crushed tomatoes, plus a little water to clean out the can
2 tablespoons tomato paste
For the braciole, lay the slices of beef flat on a board. In a bowl, mix the parsley, raisins, garlic, parmesan, pine nuts and some salt and pepper. Spread a little of the filling onto the beef slices (if you have any extra stuffing keep it aside for the sauce). Roll each of the beef pieces up and bind with kitchen string.
For the sauce, put a generous amount of oil in a heavy bottomed pan and fry the braciole for a couple of minutes on each side until nicely browned. Remove and set aside. To the same pan add the onion, along with a pinch of salt and the chilli flakes, and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and let the alcohol evaporate for a few minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Add the beef and cook stirring until it has changed colour, at this point if you have any stuffing left over add it to the meat and stir through. Then add the tomatoes, the tomato paste and a scant teaspoon of salt.
Stir well and add the braciole back to the pan along with any accumulated juices. Bring the mixture to a simmer and let it cook slowly over gentle heat, covered for 2 hours. Check it regularly, basting the beef rolls with the sauce and adding a little water if necessary. Then cook for about another hour, uncovered, until the braciole are very tender. Again turning the braciole occasionally, and stirring the sauce. Check seasoning and add salt if required.
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente. As the pasta cooks remove the braciole from the sauce and place on a cutting board. Drain the pasta and stir through the sauce. Remove the string from the braciole and cut into 1cm slices. Serve the pasta into individual bowls topping each with a few slices of braciole and some grated parmesan. Serve the remaining braciole in the centre of the table.