Once a week since early in the pandemic, Jim and I do a Zoom happy hour with Marty and Maureen — friends from Reedsburg, Wisconsin, which is where Jim grew up. Marty told us in one of our first calls that being shut-in offered a good opportunity for him to learn to cook. Up until then, his culinary experience was limited to flipping burgers and cooking steaks on the grill.
I offered to help, and sent him several beginner recipes, which he mastered with ease. About once a month, we do dinner “together” — that is, I’ll send him a recipe and we’ll both cook the same thing, and eat ‘together’ by Zoom. And we’ve moved way past ‘beginner’ -- there’s nothing today that he won't try, and he’s aced everything we’ve made together.
Recently, they told us they wanted to do Italian, and real traditional - basic spaghetti and meat sauce. Being from New York with a last name of Gennarelli, that’s something I know how to do. I suggested we make it a little more challenging by doing braciole with it (they had never heard of it - it's thin, pounded beef that is stuffed and rolled and usually cooked in a wine and/or tomato sauce).
The meal was a huge success. We all gave it a thumbs up, and Jim suggested that I share my recipe here on LNF Weekly.
This recipe is my own, based mostly on my memory of watching my mother prepare this as I was growing up. Before we get into it, let me mention a few key things about this dish:
This takes a while, so it's a good “Sunday” project. It will take you 2 or more hours to prepare, and then it cooks for hours, filling your home with luscious aromas.
This recipe makes enough to feed an army. You can cut it back, but it does freeze very well. I suggest making a big pot and spreading the time and effort over several meals.
This recipe is very ‘forgiving’. No need to follow it to a tee. As I mentioned to Marty, “don’t sweat the details. It’s got tomatoes, garlic, beef, sausages, wine… how could it not be good?”.
This sauce is very thick. If you prefer it less thick, you can add water or low-sodium chicken broth to thin it down a bit.
Make the braciole first (but don’t cook it) and set it aside. It becomes an ‘ingredient’ in the sauce.
Braciole is only good if the meat is very thin. I suggest asking the butcher to slice it for you (to ¼ inch), and then pound it further. You want pieces that, after pounded, are about ⅛" thick, 3 to 4 inches wide and 6 or more inches long.
Use Muir Glen canned tomato products. I’ve made it with other brands — high end brands — and it’s just not quite as good. Muir Glen can be found at Central Market and at regular H-E-B stores.
I’m not fond of most of the Italian sausages I’ve bought in San Antonio. Central Market, however, has great Italian sausages — just like what I used to get in New York. I recommend shopping there.
1 pound of top round, bottom round, or London broil beef, sliced thin (see note above)
3 cloves of minced garlic
¼ cup of finely chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsley
½ cup of shredded Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon of Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Pound the beef slices until they are very thin (about ⅛ of an inch). Thin beef, cooked for hours, will be 'falling apart' tender, which is what you want.
Combine the garlic, parsley, cheese, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper in a small bowl, and moisten the mixture with olive oil.
Spread the mixture evenly over the beef slices.
Roll up the beef slices and secure each piece with a couple of pieces of string (see the photo -- it shows you pieces of braciole before they are wrapped and one in the process of being wrapped and secured).
Set aside to incorporate into the meat sauce.
Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
1.5 pounds ground beef (I use ground round)
1 pound of mild Italian sausage links, cut into 1.5” pieces
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
½ cup of white wine
1 28-ounce can of Muir Glen crushed or diced tomatoes
1 28-ounce can of Muir Glen tomato sauce
3 ounces of Muir Glen tomato paste
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of ground oregano
½ teaspoon of ground thyme
⅛ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of finely minced parsley
¼ cup of grated or shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Spaghetti (plan on 2 to 3 ounces of uncooked spaghetti per person)
Drizzle olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy stockpot (I use a cast iron Dutch oven). Brown the ground beef over medium heat until it is no longer pink (about 5 minutes). Remove from pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the sausage to the pot and brown on all sides (about 5 minutes). Remove from pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the braciole to the pot and brown on all sides (about 5 minutes). Remove from pot and set aside.
Pour out the grease in the pot, but do not clean the pot. Don’t worry if there are brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. These bits will eventually become incorporated into the sauce and make it even better.
Add 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and when it’s hot, add the onions and bell peppers. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute or 2.
Pour the wine into the pot and allow it to bubble up and reduce for about a minute and a half.
Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. Stir to combine.
Add the sugar, salt, oregano, thyme, crushed red pepper flakes and bay leaves. Stir to combine.
Add the browned ground beef, sausage and braciole, and stir again.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then partially cover and simmer over a low heat for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adjusting consistency to your preference (you can add tomato paste to make it thicker; add water, low sodium broth, more canned tomato sauce or a splash of wine or two to make it thinner — just add these ingredients in small increments until you get the consistency you want).
After the first 2 hours of simmering, add 2 tablespoons of butter and stir.
Continue cooking over low heat for another 1.5 hours. (See note above regarding adjusting consistency).
Add the parsley and grated cheese, and continue cooking over low heat for another ½ hour.
During this last step, cook the spaghetti per package instructions. The spaghetti is best cooked al dente.
Serve the sauce and meat spooned over spaghetti with shredded parmesan cheese.
Jane Gennarelli is co-editor of LNF Weekly. She also edits the Lavaca & Friends weekly arts and entertainment newsletter.