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Stuffed Pork Rolls in Tomato Sauce Verbicaro Style

This image courtesy of Sarah Remington

This recipe from my hometown of Verbicaro is an example of la cucina povera (peasant cooking), a dish that makes ingenious use of meager resources. The filling for the cutlets (vrasciole in the local dialect; braciole in Italian) consists of nothing more than minced pork fat, parsley, and garlic. Today, Southern Italians stuff braciole with breadcrumbs, cheese, pine nuts, currants, hard-cooked egg, and the like, but no version is more delicious than this simple one. The rolls are browned, then simmered with tomatoes to produce a meaty sauce enriched with the melting pork fat and the aromas of parsley and garlic. A dish for Sundays and holidays, it is two courses in one: Calabrians typically toss some of the sauce with homemade fusilli for a first course, then have the braciole as a second course. I can still hear the sound of my grandmother’s knife as she minced the pork fat by hand. She would be at it for half an hour because, with six children, she cooked nothing in small quantities. You can put the pork fat through a meat grinder, or mince it by hand, using the flat side of your chef’s knife to mash it to a paste.

NotesSuggested Wine: Vestini Campagnano Pallagrello Nero, Campania A red wine with blueberry and chocolate notes and generous tannin, fruit, and acidity for a dish that calls for a substantial wine.

Alternate: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Makes12 braciole, to serve 6 to 8

Cooking Methodbraising

CostModerate

Total Timeunder 2 hours

One Pot MealYes

OccasionFamily Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Mealdinner

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds (1½ kilograms) boneless pork butt (shoulder), trimmed of external fat
  • Kosher salt
  • ¼ pound (115 grams) pork back fat, finely ground or minced to a paste by hand
  • 2½ tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced, plus 2 whole garlic cloves
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Kitchen twine
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 quarts (2 liters) peeled, seeded, and diced ripe tomatoes or two 28-ounce (800-gram) cans Italian San Marzano tomatoes, broken up by hand
  • 5 fresh basil leaves, torn into smaller pieces

Instructions

  1. Cut the pork into scaloppine-like slices about 5 by 3 inches (13 by 8 centimeters) and ¼ inch (6 millimeters) thick. They don’t have to be perfect rectangles. The 3 pounds (1½ kilograms) meat should yield about 12 slices. Working with one slice at a time, put the meat between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet to flatten the pork to about 1/8 inch (3 millimeters) thick and to enlarge the surface area. When all the slices have been pounded, sprinkle both sides with salt.

  2. For the Stuffing: Combine the pork fat with the parsley and garlic. Season with ¾ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Mix until smooth and creamy.

  3. Top each piece of pork with 2 teaspoons of the stuffing. Spread the stuffing evenly but stop short of the edges. Working from the shorter side, roll the slices tightly like a jelly roll. Using a 12-inch (30-centimeter) length of kitchen twine, tie each roll by looping the twine around the roll, working from one end of the roll to the other, and then back again. Tie the ends of the twine together.

  4. Choose a 6-quart (6-liter) heavy pot or Dutch oven large enough to hold all the braciole snugly in one layer. Set the pot over moderately high heat and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. When the oil is hot, add the braciole and brown the rolls on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Anice crust should develop on the bottom of the pan. Add the 2 whole garlic cloves and sauté briefly to release their fragrance, then add the tomatoes and basil. With a wooden spoon, scrape up all the crusty browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and simmer gently, uncovered, until the sauce thickens and the meat is fork tender, 1 to 1½ hours.

  5. Remove the braciole from the sauce and cut away the string. Return them to the sauce and keep warm over low heat. Reserving some sauce to coat the braciole, use the remaining sauce to coat 1 pound (450 grams) of pasta for a first course (see recipe introduction), then serve the braciole as a second course.

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