In celebration of our fourth #pastatuesday and the winner of An Italian-Canadian Life’s first pasta contest, I’m offering up a recipe for the perfect side or pairing for pasta: a recipe for meatballs and veal rolls (or polpette and braciole).
Meatballs are a classic part of Sunday dinner and braciola are always a special surprise. For southern Italians, braciole are veal cutlet roll ups but what is inside can be debated. Each family has their own version. Some just put herbs and cheese inside, others, like my family, puts a meatball mixture inside. While “braciole” which refers to “slices of meat” in southern Italy, this recipe is common throughout Italy, but called “involtini”, meaning “little bunches.” Whatever you call them, they are a little labour-intensive but worth the work.
Polpette e braciole
1 pound pork meat, minced
1 pound veal meat, minced
2 cups bread crumbs
1 cup parmigiana cheese, grated
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup parsley, chopped
8 veal cutlets
vegetable oil for frying
Start by mixing all the ingredients, except the veal cutlets, in a large bowl. The best way to do this is by hand to be sure all the ingredients are throughly integrated. I’ve left the amount of eggs up to you, but you’ll need at least four for this amount of meat. The more eggs to add to this mixture the softer your meatballs will be once they are cooked. I like my meatballs firm so that they get a good crispy outside when fried and they stay together well when mixed with pasta. My husband prefers the “melt in your mouth” type, which are very soft to your fork and fall apart a bit in your pasta.
Once combined well, you can form the mixture into balls or ovals about two inches wide. If you want to get really fancy, you can place a cube of mozzarella into the centre of the meatball for a surprise for any dinner guests. Use about 3/4 of your mixture. Put the meatballs aside to rest while you work on your braciole.
For the braciole, you’ll need to prepare the veal cutlets which will encase the remaining amount of your meatball mixture. Pound out the veal cutlets with a meat tenderizer until they almost double in size, but be careful not to create any holes or tears in the meat. Cut each veal cutlet in half. Laying out one cutlet, place approximately two tablespoons of the meatball mixture at one end of the veal and roll up the cutlet tightly. Secure the seam with toothpick or short skewer to ensure it doesn’t open up while cooking.
Once all your meat is prepared, it needs to be braised and simmered in tomato sauce.
Before braising the meat, start your tomato sauce. Using canned or jarred tomatoes and your favourite recipe, prepare a large pot of tomato sauce and set it to begin boiling to reduce.
In a shallow frying pan, warm up vegetable oil about 1/2 inch deep. Brown the meatballs on all sides until golden. Don’t worry about cooking the meatballs through as they will finish cooking in the tomato sauce. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil. Repeat with the braciole, browning the veal on at least two sides and removing any excess oil.
Place all the meatballs and braciole in your tomato sauce and allow to simmer until the tomato sauce is reduced and ready to serve, or until the meatballs are cooked through.
Serve piping hot with your favourite pasta and plenty of parmigiana for sprinkling.