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Everyday Italian: Braciola

As Giada De Laurentiis notes in her introductory paragraph to this recipe, braciola can mean different dishes depending on which region of Italy you're in. This version uses flank steak wrapped around a cheese-and-bread-crumb filling. The meat is tasty and tender, and the filled slices look lovely. I did have a few issues with the technique, however.

De Laurentiis instructs the cook to cover the flank steak with the filling, and then "roll it up like a jelly roll, enclosing the filling completely." Flank steaks don't vary greatly in their dimensions, so I was surprised when I had too much filling. It didn't all fit when I rolled the steak up; about 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup ended up back on the work surface, squeezed out by the rolling-up process. I did the best I could to get all of the filling into the roll, but it didn't all fit.

Be extremely careful to get all of the filling completely contained within the flank steak. Some of my filling came out while I was browning the roll in the sauté pan, and it burned. I had to scrape the burnt stuff out of the pan before deglazing with the white wine, so that the bitter flavors wouldn't ruin the sauce. If you get some burnt crumbs and cheese in the pan despite your best efforts to be careful, make sure you remove it completely before adding the wine and marinara sauce.

This dish can be made a day ahead and reheated. I found that the flavors melded together nicely, and the braciola tasted even better the second day. Feel free to vary the cheeses -- mozzarella, fontina, Gorgonzola, or Parmesan would all work well.

De Laurentiis doesn't suggest accompaniments for the dish; I served it with buttered-and-parsleyed orzo. Any pasta would work well as a bed for the braciola slices. The recipe says to spoon the sauce over the top of the slices, but that covers up the attractive look of the filled steak. I suggest spooning the sauce around the edge of each slice.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: about 2 hours
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

2/3 cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
1/3 cup grated Provolone cheese
1/2 cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
2 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 garlic clove, minced
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 flank steak (1 1/2 pounds)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
3 1/4 cups Marinara Sauce (use your favorite store-bought marinara if you don't want to make your own from scratch)

In a medium bowl, stir the cheeses, bread crumbs, parsley, and garlic to blend. Stir in 2 Tbsp olive oil, and set aside.

Lay the flank steak flat on the work surface, and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper. Sprinkle the bread-crumb mixture evenly over the steak, leaving about a 1/2-inch border around the edges. Starting at a short end, roll the steak up around the filling, as for a jelly roll. Enclose the filling completely. If necessary, remove excess filling so that it doesn't leak out. Tie the roll with 2 or 3 lengths of kitchen string to secure. Sprinkle the roll with the remaining 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large, heavy, ovenproof skillet or sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the braciola and brown on all sides, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the wine or vermouth and bring to a boil. Stir in the 3 1/4 cups Marinara Sauce. Cover partially with foil and bake, turning the roll and basting with the sauce every 30 minutes, until the meat is almost tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and continue baking until tender, about 30 minutes longer. (The braciola can be made up to this point 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover with foil and refrigerate. Reheat in a 350-degree oven until warmed through, about 30 minutes.)

Remove the roll from the sauce. Cut the kitchen string with a knife and remove. Slice the braciola crosswise into 4 or 6 slices, approximately 1/2-inch thick (a serrated knife works well for this). Transfer the slices to plates, and spoon the sauce around each slice. If desired, serve the slices atop a bed of pasta, such as orzo or mini-penne.



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