In the north of Italy, a braciole is a chop, whether of beef, veal, or pork; but in the South it is synonymous with a piece of lean meat, presumably originally cut from the chop bone, rolled around a filling. These are braciolone if they're big, bracioline or braciolette if they're small. In Puglia they might be made of lean veal, but more often they're made of horse meat. You probably won't be able to find horse meat for this dish, but young beef or veal will be an acceptable substitute.
This recipe is adapted from one given me by the Barese cooking teacher Paola Pettini, an energetic, enthusiastic exponent of her regional cuisine. Note that it is intended to be served as two courses, the first a sauce for pasta (often orechiette), the second the meat, either on its own or with a little more of the sauce. While some might find it odd to serve two courses with the same flavors Pugliese think good things sometimes come in double doses.
8 thin boneless beef or veal scaloppine or cutlets (about 1 pound), pounded thin
8 very thin slices savory baked ham or pancetta, plus 2 tablespoons minced pancetta for the soffritto
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 garlic clove, minced with the parsley
1 heaping tablespoon rinsed and drained capers
3 ounces pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano, cut in slender fingers
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped with the onion
1 carrot, scraped and finely chopped
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 cups coarsely chopped canned whole tomatoes
1 small dried hot red chile pepper or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Finely minced basil or parsley for garnish, optional
Large skillet or heavy saucepan.
P0UND the beef cutlets with a meat pounder to stretch them and make them very thin (or ask the butcher to do this for you). Lay a slice of ham or pancetta on each cutlet, then sprinkle with a teaspoon of the garlicparsley combination, a few capers, and a finger of cheese. Roll each cutlet up over the filling and secure with a toothpick or tie with thread.
IN a deep skillet over medium-high heat, brown the beef rolls on all sides in the olive oil. Remove as they brown and set aside.
FOR THE 'SOFFRITTO' - Add the minced pancetta to the pan together with the chopped onion, garlic, and carrot, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft but not brown. Add the wine, raise the heat slightly, and cook, scraping up any brown bits. When the wine has reduced by approximately half, add the tomatoes to the pan and continue cooking for about 5 minutes to reduce and thicken the tomatoes into a sauce.
THE recipe may be prepared ahead to this point.
WHEN ready to continue, heat the sauce over medium until it is simmering. Crumble the chile pepper and stir into the sauce. Return the beef rolls to the pan, spooning the sauce over them to cover well. Add salt and pepper. Cover the pan, lower the heat to medium-low, and continue cooking for 25 minutes, or until the beef rolls are thoroughly impregnated with the flavors of the sauce.
SERVE the beef rolls with the sauce; or, if you prefer, serve the sauce with pasta as a first course, reserving just a few spoonfuls to garnish the beef rolls, which are served as the main course. Garnish with minced herbs if you wish.
VARIATION: In Foggia, bracioline are made as they are in Naples, with a few toasted pine nuts and some sultana raisins, plumped in hot water and drained, added to the stuffing.