Editor’s note: For 12 days leading up to Christmas, St. George News is featuring staff members’ favorite holiday recipes. This is the first installment.

ST. GEORGE — There’s an old TV commercial for Ragu spaghetti sauce that always concluded with: “Now that’s Italian!” The dish I’m about to introduce most definitely falls into this category.

Once the ingredients are added and the meat is rolled, braciole should be seared before it is placed in a slow cooker filled with spaghetti sauce, Washington City, Utah, Dec. 24, 2021 | Photo by Vin Cappiello, St. George News

Braciole, pronounced brah-ZHOLE, is a traditional rolled meat dish that features unique ingredients, a sharp knife and patience to prepare. Regional pronunciations of this traditional favorite differ; my ancestors are from Bari, a fisherman’s village right on the Adriatic Sea in southern Italy. A hard “C” is more like a hard “G,” and more often than not, if a word ends with a vowel, it’s barely enunciated.

That said, braciole remains a staple of the Cappiello family, something my mom, who’s actually Irish-German, learned from my fraternal grandmother, nee Mary Tirolo, an Italian immigrant to New York City over 100 years ago.

I imagine the recipe has changed through the years, but nonetheless, a good braciole starts with a proper cut of meat. Eye of round is preferred, but a good rump roast will do just fine. You’re going to pound the heck out of it, so even if it’s a little more marbled than you usually like, worry not.

My mom suggests partially freezing the roast before slicing. She always uses a super-sharp butcher knife; I cheat a bit and use an electric carving knife. This is a key “non-food” ingredient — the slices should be about 1/8th of an inch thick and about 4-by-4 inches in diameter, give or take an inch here or there.

Once the meat is sliced and before the ingredients are added, the pieces need to be pounded. The process is further simplified by using small bowls for each of the ingredients, Washington City, Utah, Dec. 24, 2021 | Photo by Maggie Cappiello, St. George News

Recipe for braciole

Eye of round roast or rump roast
1/2 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled
1/2 onion, diced
1-2 cups raisins (or pine nuts)
1-2 cups grated parmesan cheese
1/2-1 teaspoon salt
1/2-1 teaspoon pepper,
1/2-1 teaspoon oregano (or Italian seasoning)
1/2-1 teaspoon garlic powder (or fresh garlic)
Toothpicks or roasting twine
64 ounces spaghetti sauce
1 can crushed tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Cooking wine (optional)

Put the sauce and crushed tomatoes in the slow cooker; add cooking wine if desired. After preparing the above ingredients, fill four cereal-sized bowls with each of the following separately: bacon, onion, raisins, salt, pepper, parmesan, oregano, garlic mixture.

Use a meat mallet to pound the pieces of beef so they are at least 4-by-4 inches. Use a spoon to sprinkle the spice/parmesan mixture on the beef. Add crumbled bacon (equivalent of about one slice), raisins and diced onion (personal preference).

Now for the tricky part. Using both hands, gently fold up the edges and tightly roll the slice of beef with the ingredients on the inside (don’t worry if some fall out). Use toothpicks or roasting twine to hold the rolled-up braciole together and place it in a frying pan with the seam down.

Gnocchi, red wine and garlic toast are ideal complements to a properly cooked braciole, Dec. 24, 2020 | Photo by Vin Cappiello, St. George News

Don’t turn on the stove heat until all the braciole fills the pan, which should have about 1/8-inch of extra virgin olive oil and cooking wine (if desired). Place a cover on the pan, and turn the heat on medium. Bring to a boil and resist the temptation to flip the braciole until at least 10 minutes have elapsed. Use a slotted spoon to gently flip each one and leave uncovered for another 5 minutes. The meat simply needs to be browned to seal in the flavor, so frying time may vary.

Use a slotted spoon to scoop out each braciole and place it in the sauce mixture in the slow cooker. Once they are all in there, cover and cook on medium for 4-6 hours. If your slow cooker is equipped with an exact temperature setting, start it at 325 F and adjust accordingly.

This is where patience pays off.

Just let it cook all day and check it after 4 hours by spooning one brociole out and cutting into it with a fork. If it requires effort, it’s not done. So crank the heat up a bit and let it boil for at least an hour or 2. When you can easily slice through it with a fork, it’s ready.

As the day progresses, be forewarned: The aroma will be pungent and enticing and unbelievably wonderful. Hang in there; it’ll be worth the wait.

Once it’s done, remove all of it from the slow cooker and place in a serving dish. Use the sauce it was cooked in to cover your pasta and if desired, the braciole itself.

Braciole is best served with pasta — traditional spaghetti, ziti or gnocchi or whatever kind of pasta you prefer. It’s nicely complemented by garlic toast or fresh Italian bread and just about any red wine, though we prefer pinot noir, merlot or malbec.

If you have a question, my email is listed below. Send me a message and I’ll talk you through it.

In the meantime, buon natale!

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