A big pot of sauce with plenty of beef braciole perking on a stove—that has been the Sunday meal for many Italian American households for as long as I can remember. Sausages and meatballs added to the pot made for an even more bountiful dinner. The braciole, meatballs and sausage were served on a platter, while the sauce dressed a big bowl of rigatoni. The only thing left to do is to beckon everybody to the table to eat.
For the Braciole
1½ cups milk
2 cups ½-inch bread cubes, cut from day-old Italian bread with crusts removed
2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and coarsely chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
¼ cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
1 garlic clove, chopped fine
2 pounds beef bottom round, , cut into 12 slices, each about 1/2 -inch thick
12 slices imported Italian prosciutto (about 6 ounces)
¼ pound imported provola or provolone cheese, cut into 1/4 x 1/4-inch sticks
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the Sauce
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions (about 8 ounces), chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
One 35-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes , (preferably San Marzano)
½ cup dry red wine
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
Salt and crushed red pepper to taste
To make the stuffing: Pour the milk into a medium bowl, add the bread cubes and let soak until the bread is very soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain the bread, squeeze out excess milk from the cubes with your hands and return it to the bowl. Stir in the chopped eggs, parsley, Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, raisins, pine nuts and garlic. Mix well and set aside.
With the toothed side of a heavy meat mallet, pound each slice of beef round to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Arrange one of the pounded meat slices in front of you with one of the short sides closest to you. Top with a slice of prosciutto and tap the prosciutto with the back side of a knife so it adheres to the beef. Spread 2 tablespoons of the stuffing over the beef slice, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Place a stick of provolone crosswise over the edge of the stuffing closest to you. Fold the border over the provolone, then fold the side borders in to overlap the edges of the stuffing. Roll into a compact roll. Secure the end flap with a toothpick. Repeat with the remaining beef and stuffing, then season the rolls with salt and pepper.
Empty the tomatoes into a bowl and squeeze them with your hands until coarsely crushed, removing the cores as you do.
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy casserole over medium heat. Stir in the onions and garlic and cook until the onion is wilted, about 5 minutes. Add as many of the braciole as will fit in a single layer and cook, turning the braciole as necessary, until golden on all sides, about 7 minutes. If necessary, repeat with any remaining braciole. Adjust the heat under the pan as necessary to prevent the beef from scorching.
Pour the wine into the casserole, bring to a boil and cook until most of the wine has evaporated. Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add tomato paste and bay leaves and stir until the paste is dissolved. Season lightly with salt and crushed red pepper, adjust the heat to simmering and cook, adding water as necessary to keep the braciole completely submerged, until the beef is tender, about 3 hours.
Remove the toothpicks before serving. The braciole can be prepared up to 2 days in advance, then reheated over low heat until heated through.