In a classic braciole, tougher cuts of pork or beef are softened by a long, slow braise. Making braciole is part of the “Sunday sauce” tradition for many Italian-Americans.
Braciole is a Neapolitan-style dish that is historically part of Southern Italian cuisine. The ingredients of this delicious dish come from ancient Greece. The meat is traditionally filled with cured prosciutto, raisins, pine nuts and cheese, then seared and slow-cooked in a tomato sauce.
My version of braciole uses lean pork tenderloin, cut into pieces and pounded thin. After you pound it, you stuff, roll and tie off the meat rolls, and they become tender in the sauce in less than 2 hours. To make this dish my own, I use a simple filling of homemade bread crumbs, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, minced carrots, garlic and olive oil. Fresh parsley and basil add flavor, and the zest of a lemon adds brightness.
My basic Sunday sauce is easy to make with just a few ingredients, including both fresh and dried spices. I like to layer the flavors by adding the fresh basil at the beginning and end of the cooking time. My favorite canned tomatoes are Cento San Marzano tomatoes because they are sweet, not very acidic and contain few seeds.
Pour the tomatoes in a large mixing bowl and break them up with your hands. Make them coarse if you like a chunky sauce, or really squish them with your fingers if you like a smoother sauce. I like a smoother sauce, so I take my time to break up the tomatoes before adding them to the pot. Add meatballs and Italian sausages to the sauce if you like your sauce to have more varieties of meat.
Serve this dish by tossing your favorite al dente pasta with the sauce, with the meat on the side for an authentic Italian-style feast. Don’t forget the sprinkle of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese at the table. Add even more fresh flavor with a sprinkle of finely sliced fresh basil. Mangia!
Italian Pork Tenderloin Braciole
For the meat and stuffing:
1 (2-pound) package lean pork tenderloin
2 cups toasted homemade bread crumbs
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
¼ cup finely minced fresh Italian parsley
¼ cup finely minced fresh basil leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup finely minced carrots
3 cloves of garlic, finely grated
Zest of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon each salt and pepper, or to taste
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup canola oil
For the Sunday sauce:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, finely minced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper, or more if needed to taste
2 (28-ounce) cans Cento San Marzano peeled whole tomatoes, crushed with your hands to break up the tomatoes
½ cup fresh basil leaves, finely sliced, plus more for serving
1 pound dried or fresh pasta, cooked al dente
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Remove pork from package and dry the tenderloins with a paper towel. Lay the tenderloins on a large cutting board and cut each into four equal pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and, using the flat side of a meat mallet, pound each piece of meat to ½ inch thickness. You will have eight thin cutlets.
In a large mixing bowl, toss together the bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, basil, olive oil, carrots, garlic, lemon zest and salt and pepper. This is your stuffing.
Back on the cutting board, place a generous amount of the prepared stuffing in the middle of each piece of pounded meat. Roll up the meat, tucking in the sides. Don’t worry if some of the filling falls out. Tie each roll with butchers twine to secure the filling.
Spread the flour on a plate, lightly dredge each tied roll into flour and set on a plate by the stove.
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat the canola oil to a shimmer. Sear the rolls evenly all around to create a light brown crust, using tongs to turn. They will continue to cook in the sauce. Set aside on the plate while you make the sauce.
Make the sauce: In a large nonreactive sauce pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, dried herbs and salt and pepper. Saute the mixture by stirring constantly, just until translucent but not browned, being careful not to burn the bottom of the pot. Burnt garlic will impart a bitter taste to your sauce.
Add the broken-up tomatoes and half the fresh basil to the pot and bring to a simmer. Place the browned meat rolls gently into the sauce and stir to cover with sauce. Adjust the heat to a gentle simmer and turn every 15 minutes.
Keep the pot half-covered while cooking to let the excess condensation escape. Simmer for about 1 ½ to 2 hours or until the meat is tender and the sauce is reduced and thickened nicely. Stir in the remaining basil when the sauce and meat are cooked. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
Remove the rolls to a platter and carefully remove and discard the string with kitchen scissors. Cover the tops of the rolls with sauce. Cover with foil to keep warm while the pasta is cooking.
Toss the cooked pasta with sauce, as much or as little as you like. Serve with braciole and just a bit more sauce on top. Top with a sprinkle of freshly torn basil leaves. Serve grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese at the table.
Lorraine Fina Stevenski is a self-taught baker and award-winning recipe contest addict. This column features recipes that have been entered in contests across America and updated for readers who love to bake and cook. Check out what she’s cooking and creating right now on her Facebook page, LORRAINE FINA STEVENSKI. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.