Tag Archives: sicilian cooking

Braciola: Old Country Style

In past times in the “Old Country”, meat was not eaten as regularly as it is today, given scarcity and lack of ability to keep it fresh.  When it was served, it was critical to serve it properly, maximizing the flavor and using it creatively.  That’s where the recipe we share with you today, braciola, found it’s roots.  Braciola means “slices of meat” (with the plural braciole often used as well), and originate in southern Italy, particularly Sicily, which is where my family comes from.  My family brought this recipe over from “the Old Country” when they came to the United States, and it continues to play a central role in the cuisine in my family.

Braciola can be cooked with a variety of meats (for example, pork or chicken), but is traditionally cooked with beef, and in tomato sauce.  It can be served as a main dish or a side dish.  Typically, I cook it with a tomato sauce that I am making, including meatballs, porkchops, sausages and other meats (see Episode 1: Classic Tomato Sauce and Meatballs).  I prepare and cook the braciole seperately, and let it cook in the sauce with the other meats for about 2 hours.  Once finished, I serve it with pasta and the other meats.  Otherwise, braciole makes a great meal into itself.


Ingredients for the braciola

You will need the following ingredients to make enough braciola to serve 3-4 people: 4 cuts of butterflied top round beef, 3 hard boiled eggs, 4-5 inner, tender stalks of celery, 1/2 cup of pine nuts, 3 cloves of diced garlic, 1 small white onion diced up, 1/2 cup of grated percorino romano cheese, 2 tablespoons of salt, and a 1/4 cup of olive oil.  You will also need toothpicks and butcher’s string to tie the meat.  Finally, you will also need to prepare your tomato sauce (see Episode 1).

Getting the right cut of meat

Braciola is made with the leanest cut of beef from the top round.  You will need to ask your local butcher to cut the meat properly for you.  Ask for a thin, lean cut of top round beef, and have the butcher butterfly it for you.  Butterflying the meat will make it thin enough and wide enough for you to make braciola.  If the butcher looks at you like you have 3 heads, go find another butcher.  A good, quality butcher will understand what it means to cut the meat the way you are asking.  When one of my sons picks up the meat for me, they tell the butcher that they need it cut properly or their old Italian mother will crucify them.  That usually gets the butcher to cut it properly 🙂

Preparing the braciola

Once you get the proper cut of meat, you are ready to begin.  Braciola is simple to make (as are most of the recipes I share with you), and will take about 15 minutes to prepare.  You will need to cook it in your sauce for about 2 hours after the initial preparation.

To make 4 braciole, you will need 4 cuts of meat.  Take the meat and lay it flat on a dish.  Slice up the inner, tender celery stalks and spread them evenly on the meat.  Do the same with the hard boiled eggs, spreading them out across the meats.  Take the pine nuts and sprinkle them on the meats evenly, along with the diced garlic and onions.  Finally, spread the cheese and salt across the meat.

Once all the toppings are added, you are ready to roll the meat.  Rolling the meat is not difficult, but it will take some practice.  Getting the proper roll is critical for braciola since it will help ensure the meat is cooked properly and is served properly when sliced.  Start by taking one end of the meat and gently folding it on itself until you reach the other end.  You want to make sure none of the fillings inside come out, and remain tucked inside the meat.

Once you have it rolled, you are ready to seal it shut so that it can be dropped into the sauce for cooking.  Start off sealing the meat with the toothpicks, which will help with the initial seal.  Put toothpicks on both ends, as well as the middle of the meat to keep it sealed.  Next, get about 2 feet of butcher’s string and begin tying the meat securely.  Start on one end, getting a solid tie, and follow that by wrapping the meat all the way up until you reach the other end, where you will seal it shut similar to the other end.  Cut any excess string off and dispose.  Repeat the same process on the other braciole.

Now you are ready to cook the meat.  Place the olive oil in a wide, flat frying pan and place on high.  Once the oil is heated, place your braciole in the pan, turning the heat down to medium.  Once the meat is slightly browned, rotate it.  Once it’s slightly browned on that side, rotate again.  Keep rotating until the meat is browned on all sides.  Once you are finished browning the meat, take it directly from the pan, and place it in the tomato sauce.  Let it simmer in the tomato sauce for about 2 hours.  This length of time will ensure the meat is cooked to a proper level of tenderness and that the flavor of meat is infused in the sauce.

After the meat has simmered for 2 hours, you are ready to remove, slice and serve.  Start by taking the meat out of the sauce and putting it in a casserole dish.  Remove all the string from the meat, using a clean scissors.  Next, take a sharp knife and slice the meat width-wise into nice circular cuts.  Spread some tomato sauce on top, and place into the oven at about 350 degrees for 7-8 minutes.  Remove, and serve right away.

I often will freeze the braciole in a freezer-friendly container, for serving at a future date.  It will preserve nicely in the freezer, and serve as an easy way to pull together a quick meal.

Hopefully you will give braciola a try, eventually making it part of your regular cooking tradition.  Let us know what you think by sharing your comments to this post.  Buon appetito!

Sicilian Classic: Chicken Marsala

In this episode, we have a very special guest who joins us to share one of her favorite ways to cook the Sicilian classic, chicken marsala.  My daughter Christina Lombardo Seiler visited me from where she lives in San Diego and while she was here we filmed Episode 8  of the Cooking with Mama Lombardo Show.

It’s always special when you get to cook with your daughter, especially when it’s a recipe she has learned how to cook so well.  In fact, chicken marsala is not a recipe that I normally have cooked over the years, despite the city of Marsala being only about 45 minutes from where my parents came from.  Marsala wine is a wine that we often drank growing up, and is the most famous fortified wine coming from Italy.  Marsala comes in either in a dry or sweet variety, either of which you can use in this recipe.

Gary, Mama Lombardo and special guest Christina Lombardo Seiler

Chicken marsala is a perfect recipe for the Cooking with Mama Lombardo Show: simple, authentic, delicious and fun.  We hope that you’ll give it a try!

The ingredients you will need for chicken marsala include: 2-3 chicken breasts, 1/2 cup of flour, 4 tablespoons of butter, 1 cup of marsala wine, 3 cups of sliced mushrooms, salt, pepper, 1 cup of chicken broth, and chopped chives.

Preparing the Chicken

Tenderize your chicken breasts, by pounding them with a tenderizing tool.  Mix the flour, salt, pepper and some dried oregano (optional) in a dish.  Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour so that you have them covered all over in flour.

Heat a medium size skillet on medium heat.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of butter. When melted, add the chicken to the pan and cook until golden brown on each side.  Be careful not to burn the chicken.  Once golden brown, take the chicken off and put on a plate.

Making the Marsala Sauce

While the pan is still hot, add another tablespoon of butter.  Add the sliced mushrooms into the pan and spread them out evenly over the pan.  Next, add the marsala wine into the pan, along with the chicken broth.  Add another tablespoon of butter.  Bring to a low boil, and then add the chicken into the sauce.  Cover the chicken and let it simmer for about 8-10 minutes.   If you would like to thicken the sauce up, you can take some of the excess flour and add it to the simmering sauce.

Once finished, take the chicken out of the pan and serve on a plate.  Add some mushrooms and sauce on top.  Sprinkle a dash of salt and pepper, and then add some chopped chives for garnish.  That’s it!  Serve with some marsala wine and enjoy!

Eggplant Parmigiana

One of the most popular items among family members that I cook is eggplant parmesan.  I bring it to family birthday parties, holiday parties and other family gatherings, where I always leave with an empty pan.

Eggplant parmesan or parmigiana di melanaza is a classic southern Italian dish, particularly in Sicily.  Eggplants like warm and dry climates, so southern Italy is an ideal native ground for this plant.  Eggplants are used in a variety of dishes– in pasta, on pizza, in spreads, in salads, among other things.  It’s truly a versatile vegetable.

In Episode 3 of our show, we walk through how your prepare the fresh eggplant, battering and frying the eggplant, assembling the dish and finally, baking to perfection.  We hope you enjoy the show and will give the recipe a try.  Please share any comments.

The recipe shared in this episode makes enough for 5-7 people (or more depending upon how many servings and how hungry your guests are).   You will 2 fresh eggplants (1 large, 1 small/medium sized), 28 ozs of tomato sauce (be sure to prepare it as shown in Episode 1 (without the meat in the sauce), 2-3 cups of seasoned breadcrumbs, 2 eggs, salt, pepper, 1 cup of freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese, 3 cups of fresh shredded mozzarella, approximately 3-4 cups of water in a bowl, and lots of olive oil (as much as needed for frying).  You will also need a 8 x 11 inch (2 quart) pan for cooking.  If you’d like to make a larger dish (which I usually do), simply prepare more eggplants, up the amount of ingredients and use a bigger pan!

Preparing the Fresh Eggplant

Peel the 2 fresh eggplant, removing all the skin.  Once all the skin is removed, getting a sharp knife and cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch slices.  Place the eggplant slices into a large bowl of salt water (you’ll need about 3 -4 cups of water with about 3 teaspoons of salt dissolved in).  Let all of the eggplant slices soak in the salt water for about 5 minutes.  The goal is to soften the eggplant up so you can more easily remove the seeds, as well as to make the eggplant softer for frying.   Once done soaking, take a knife and scrape the seeds off of each of the eggplant slices.  The seeds are bitter and you should seek to remove as many as possible before cooking.    As you finish removing the seeds, place each eggplant slices on paper towels, drying them all around.

Batter and Fry the Eggplant Slices

Before battering and frying, prepare your tomato sauce.  You should prepare it the same way as we reviewed in Episode 1.  Keep it on a very lower simmer on the stove while you batter and fry the eggplant slices.

Take your 3 cups of seasoned breadcrumbs and place them in a large flat dish.  Crack and beat the 2 eggs into a dish, adding salt and pepper.  Take an eggplant slice with a fork and coat it in the egg.  Once fully coated with the egg, place it in the breadcrumbs, ensuring it is fully coated in breadcrumbs.  Repeat until all the eggplant slices are fully coated in breadcrumbs.

Get a large frying pan, and place it on the stove at medium heat.  Add olive oil.  You want to be sure to have enough oil to get a good frying process going– too little oil can burn the eggplant, so be careful.   Keep adding enough oil so the frying process continues without burning the eggplant.

Once the oil is nice and hot, add your eggplant slices, covering the pan.  Cook each slice until golden brown on each side, then place onto a dish with paper towels (you can layer the eggplant slices on top of one another with paper towels in between each layer).  If the olive oil becomes “dirty” or in other words, there are a lot of residual breadcrumbs pieces mixed in, swap out the dirty oil for fresh olive oil.

Layer the Eggplant in the Pan

Now you’re ready for the fun part (or the next fun part!).  There is no science behind how many layers of eggplant you should have for the perfect eggplant parmesan– just layer it until you reach the top of the pan.

Take your pan and coat the bottom with some of your tomato sauce.  Take an eggplant slice, coat it in tomato sauce, then place it in the pan.  Repeat with each slice until you’ve fully completed the layer.  Before going onto the next layer, sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese (or pecorino romano) over the layer, as well as sprinkle the fresh grated mozzarella cheese over the layer.  Build the next layer, repeating the process of adding the grated parmesan and shredded mozzarella in between each layer.  When you reach the top layer, top it off with the parmesan cheese and mozzarella.  Add some tomato sauce along the sides of the dish (don’t place any on top!).  That’s it!  Now you’re ready to bake it.

Baking the Eggplant Parmesan

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Place your pan of eggplant parmigiana into the middle of the oven.  Let it bake for about 20 minutes, rotating about halfway through.  I like to get a nice golden brown, crispy layer on top, so I move it to the top shelf of the oven after the 20 minutes is up, for about another 5-7 minutes.  Keep a close eye on it, making sure it doesn’t burn.  Once crispy on top, you’re ready to serve!

Make sure you serve the eggplant parmigiana hot!  It’s easy to re-heat if it cools down, which you can do in the oven.  You can serve with some tomato sauce on the side, as well as grated parmesan cheese.  It goes great with red wine.  Buon appetito!