Tuesday 24 December 2019

Beef Braciole: A Classic Italian Dish

The holiday and festive season being upon us again, boredom sets in.  Rather quickly, once the office year-end parties and club end-of-year functions have taken their toll.  In South Africa, this is the time of rich dishes and too much food.  And afterwards everybody goes: “ugh, I had too much to eat.  Again.”  Perhaps then it is time for a not-so rich, but flavourful and wholesome dish that is easy to prepare, yet classier than mac and cheese.

Beef braciole is a classic Italian dish of this nature.  It requires some effort but is reasonably quick and easy to prepare.  The dish consists of an Italian version of what we here in South Africa know as beef olives, stewed in a wholesome tomato-based sauce.  The internet abounds with various versions of the sauce.  I chose a standard standby, this time adding a little red wine to deglaze the pan.  This may be substituted by a little apple cider vinegar.  

The dish is usually made using a whole flank or a round cut.   You may opt for a large roll or several small ones.  I went for the small rolls, rather like the beef olives.  The beef may be substituted by mutton or pork of a suitable cut.  The rolls always have a savoury filling.  I chose prosciutto and breadcrumbs inundated with garlic, some grated hard cheese like parmesan and some finely chopped parsley.  I also added a drop of olive oil, as the filling looked a bit dry.  The breadcrumbs will soak up the sauce, so be sure to make a sauce that will penetrate.  The prosciutto may be substituted for any smoked flavour meat.

As for the cut of meat, I opted for beef topside, which I sliced across the grain.  This gave me several narrow pieces, in addition to some small offcuts.  The slices of beef are then rolled out using a rolling pin to get thin slices, rather like carpaccio. 

The sauce is made from peeled tomatoes.  I made my own variation by frying some onions, grated carrots and chopped celery, before adding the tomatoes.  I also added a dollop of cayenne pepper/dried chilli powder and a bay leaf.  For the main flavour I pounded two small sprigs’ worth of oregano leaves from the garden in a mortar and pestle and added this to the sauce.  Oregano is a hard herb, normally used in larger quantities.  This time I decided on a little experiment, which worked beautifully.  The oregano flavour came through, but not overpoweringly.


400 g topside beef
120 g prosciutto ham
½ cup breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic, minced
Sprig of parsley, chopped
½ cup finely grated hard cheese
1-2 cans whole peeled tomatoes (my shortcut)
1-2 bay leaves
2x fingers celery, thinly sliced
1 carrot, coarsely grated
Leaves from two small sprigs of oregano, mashed
½ cup red wine or apple cider vinegar
Some salt to taste
Some pepper to taste
Some olive oil for frying
500 g pasta for serving


Slice the meat in thin slices across the grain.  This is always a good idea.  Use a rolling pin to roll the slices even thinner.  Arrange the slices flat on the work area and top each with a slice of the prosciutto.  Top this again with a layer of breadcrumbs, chopped parsley and the mashed garlic.  Then roll up the olives into small rolls and stick a toothpick through to keep each one together for frying.   Heat up a frying pan and fry the olives in light olive oil.  The meat needs to caramelise and there should be some caramelisation in the pan.  The offcuts from the cut of meat may be chopped finely and fried with the last batch of olives.  Remove the olives from the pan and fry the onions, carrots, and celery, but leave the small meat grits, they add to the stock.  When the onions are translucent, add the wine to deglaze the pan.  Then add the tomatoes.  Mash them with a potato masher.  Add the mashed oregano and the bay leaves.   Salt to taste.  This is where you add the cayenne pepper or dried chilli.   Bring to the boil and allow the sauce to reduce a little.   When the sauce thickens a little, add the olives back, turn the heat down and simmer for at least forty minutes.  

This dish is served with pasta of your choice.  As it is a chunky dish, I opted for penne.  These I cooked separately, then strained and added it to the main dish as a mix.  Garnish with some more grated cheese and serve hot.  A hearty and delicious family meal.  It goes well with a medium bodied red wine.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last edited on 2019-12-24

Sunday 19 May 2019

Jewelled Rice and Tandoori Chicken

These two dishes together must surely be the epitome of a reasonably easy, but special course for a special occasion.

Recently, I had the chance of such an occasion, being Mother's Day. This also fell on the eve of a planned and long-outstanding knee-op for myself.  So Mother's Day offered a suitable opportunity to experiment in the kitchen, with my long suffering wife as the guinea pig.

In this instance the experiment was not eclectic in any way, as the preparation of either dish appeared to be reasonably simple, if involved.  And so it turned out to be.

The recipe started yet again with a brief search on the internet for jewelled rice recipes.  I eventually settled for ingredients which I had in hand or easily available.  Again, what struck me is that the eventual flavours are determined more by the process of preparation, than the ingredients themselves.

The rice part was completed by basmati rice.  As for the rest of the ingredients, I had to be somewhat more creative.  The nuts part were filled by some almonds and cashews.  The dried fruit contained raisins and dried cranberries.  I toyed with the idea of adding some fruit cake mix, but decided that doing so would be stretching my luck.  The carrots were coarsely julienned, the onions finely chopped.   The spice contingent was made up of cinnamon sticks, saffron, turmeric, some sugar and dried citrus peel. 

The dried citrus peel I made myself some time ago.  This is a very Cape Malay spice, widely used in sweet dishes.  This is made by drying citrus peel.  Especially the soft citrus peel, which does not have the bitter white inside of lemon and orange peel.  You dry the fresh peel in the microwave oven, taking care not to fry the fresh peel.  The dried peel is then blitzed in the blender or coffee grinder until the required fine-ness.  Very personal taste, I guess.  This dried powder may then be used in rice or any sweet dishes to enhance the flavour.  This Cape style food habit of drying fruit and making a pesto or paste for curries stems from the intermittent supply of suitable ingredients in the old days, giving rise to a whole fusion of culinary styles.  For which I am eternally grateful.

So here goes:

Jewelled Rice with Tandoori Chicken

Tandoori Chicken

6 Chicken drum sticks/thighs

250 ml plain or double cream yoghurt
1 tablespoon masala paste
Some salt

Jewelled Rice

3/4 cup basmati rice, soaked and rinsed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, coarsely julienned
3 cinnamon sticks
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
pinch of saffron
4 green cardamom pods, whole
some sugar
1 tablespoon dried citrus powder
1/2 cup raw almond shavings
1/2 cup unsalted cashews
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
some oil for cooking


The chicken is thawed properly, then cut through the skin to allow the marinade to penetrate.  The marinade is the yoghurt, add some salt and add the masala paste.  The chicken is thoroughly bedaubed with the marinade and then left to marinate until the rice is done.  I cooked the chicken over medium coals on the griddle outside, while the rice was resting, before dishing up.   The chicken on the braai griddle was a culinary adventure on its own, providing suitable psychological torture to the rest of the neighbourhood.

The jewelled rice was a new adventure altogether.  I had these ghosts of past experiments in the back of my head, where I was confronted afterwards with bitter resentment of the many dirty dishes and a dirty kitchen.  Jewelled rice calls for several ingredients to be cooked and prepared before final assembly, so some thought about sequence are in order.  The nuts provide much more flavour when they are freshly roasted, so this happens first.  The nuts were ground coarsely in a mortar and pestle, then roasted in a dry pan until they started to caramelise, then set aside until cooled.

The cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods were fried in a lightly oiled pan until the flavours come out, then the carrots added.  To this lot I added some sugar and the dried citrus peel and fried until the sugar caramelised, then came the dried fruit.  This was also set aside as soon as the dried fruit and citrus peel started to show flavours.

The rice was soaked and rinsed during all this preparation.  The next thing was to start the final assembly of the dish.  The onions were fried until they started to caramelise, after which I added the turmeric.  This was fried until the turmeric was taken up by the onions, about fifteen seconds or so.  The soaked and rinsed rice went in next to pick up some of the flavours.  While this was going on, the pinch of saffron got ground along with some sugar in the mortar and pestle, then boiling water added to steep the flavours out.

As soon as the rice was sufficiently fried to my taste, I added some boiling water to the pan and started the dish in pulao style.  I deemed this an appropriate way of getting flavours into the rice.  Once the first dollop of water was absorbed, the saffron water went in.  Check for salt.  Add some water as the rice dictates, little by little.  When the rice is almost cooked, the carrots, raisins and nuts are added.  Then no more water goes into the pan.  The lid goes on the pan and the burner turned low for a few minutes, then off.  This dish has to go fluffy with the steam inside.

While this went on, I started a fire and cooked the chicken outside. 

Then we had dinner.

Having read a lot about the Persian style dishes and their sweetness, I had some idea of what to expect.  However, my wildest dreams could not reach the flavour profiles we experienced during this meal.  The chicken provides a salty but soft angle, while the saffron and the cardamom puts the rice in a different category altogether.

A recipe to keep. For sure.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2019-05-19