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Cooks' Exchange: Holiday inspires memories of favorite Italian recipes

Cooks' Exchange: Holiday inspires memories of favorite Italian recipes


For many Italians and Sicilians, March 19 is St. Joseph’s Day celebrated with favorite recipes many of us grew up enjoying in our warm and cozy kitchens.

A reader recently referred to me as being “Madison’s Italian guru”, a prominent title I cannot claim. However, I’d like to share a recipe for braciole (pronounced “brah-ZHUL”), a special favorite if your relatives came from southern Italy. This is featured with updated and lengthy instructions in my new Italian Cooks’ Country cookbook, “Big Flavors from Italian America,” boasting of family-style favorites from coast to coast and recently given to me by many State Journal friends as a gift while recuperating from knee surgery. Described as making any nonna proud, every recipe has been tested, written and edited by America’s Test Kitchen in Boston, and includes the history of Italian Americans, captured by Jack Bishop, grandson of Roy and Katherine Pizzarello who made new memories with homespun recipes from the past. Every recipe is precise with lengthy instructions to prepare it often, just like Nonna did, many years ago.

Braciole2-pound flank steak, trimmed

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

10 garlic cloves, sliced thin

½ cup golden raisins, chopped coarse

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (½ cup) plus extra for serving

½ cup chopped fresh basil, divided

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon dried oregano, divided

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, divided

¾ teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon table salt

1 onion, chopped

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.

Place steaks on cutting board so long edge is parallel to counter edge. Using meat pounder, gently pound steak between 2 pieces of plastic wrap to even ½ inch thickness. Trim any ragged edges to create rough rectangle about 9 by 11 inches. Pat steak dry with paper towels.

Combine oil and garlic in bowl and microwave until fragrant, about 1 minute. Let cool slightly, then remove garlic from oil with fork. Separately reserve garlic and garlic oil. Combine raisins, Parmesan, ¼ cup basil, parsley, ½ teaspoon oregano, ¼ teaspoon pepper flakes and half of garlic in bowl.

Brush exposed side of steak with 1 tablespoon garlic oil and season with pepper and salt. Spread raisin mixture evenly over steak, pressing to adhere, leaving 1-inch border along top edge. Starting from bottom edge and rolling away from you, roll steak into tight log, finally resting it seam side down. Tie kitchen twine around braciole at 1-inch intervals.

Heat 1 tablespoon garlic oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add braciole, seam side down, and cook until lightly browned all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer to 9X13-inch baking dish.

Reduce heat to medium and add onion, remaining garlic oil, remaining ½ teaspoon oregano, and remaining ¼ teaspoon pepper flakes to now empty skillet. Cook until onion just beings to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and remaining garlic and cook until fragrant and tomato paste is lightly browned, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and bring to simmer. Pour sauce over braciole and cover dish tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake until fork slips easily in and out of braciole, 1 ½ to 1 ¾ hours. Transfer dish to wire rack, spoon sauce over braciole, re-cover and let rest in sauce for 30 minutes. Transfer braciole to carving board, seam side down. Discard twine and slice braciole ¾-inch thick. Stir remaining ¼ cup basil into sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle 2 cups sauce onto serving platter. Transfer braciole slices to platter. Serve, passing remaining sauce and extra Parmesan separately. Serves 4 to 6

Sam Amato’s Holiday House Italian restaurant operated for many years at 515 S. Park Street, and is missed forever. Here is the restaurant’s meat sauce recipe.

Amato’s Holiday House Sicilian meat sauce

1 pound lean ground beef

1 pound ground Italian sausage

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

4 garlic cloves, minced

28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

15-ounce can tomato sauce

6-ounce can tomato paste

2 tablespoons sugar

1 ½ teaspoons each of dried basil and oregano

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

½ teaspoon fennel seeds

1 bay leaf

½ teaspoons each of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cooked spaghetti, Vermicelli a good choice

½ cup freshly grated Romano cheese.

In a large heavy kettle, brown meat on all sides. When meat is brown, add chopped onion and sauce cooking until soft, having added chopped garlic in the meantime. Add canned tomato ingredients, bring to a boil, and turn down to simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Add seasonings, cover and continue cooking for about 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally. Serve with pasta, al dente, with grated Romano cheese. Serves 12-16

Note: If there seems to be too much grease after browning the meat, you may want to reduce the amount, leaving just enough to saute the chopped onions.

A reader recently requested a spiedini recipe. Gino Gargano arrived here from Bagheria, Sicily, and created never-to-be forgotten Sicilian food in local restaurants and markets.

Veal spiedini

8 ounces veal

1 small onion, chopped

5 garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup bread crumbs

1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper

2 teaspoons fresh parsley

¼ cup pine nuts

1 cup Romano cheese

4 bay leaves

Olive oil

In fry pan, saute onion and garlic. Add to bread crumbs, salt, pepper, parsley, pine nuts and cheese; mix together. Pound veal with meat tenderizer. Spread crumb mixture on top of veal. Roll up lengthwise and secure with string. Brown in olive oil in fry pan. Place in baking dish with 4 bay leaves on top. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at

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