I'm excited to bring you the latest culinary re-creation from my childhood: Braciole. In many southern Italian homes, thin slices of beef are rolled with garlic, parsley and parmesan, tied with string or toothpicks and slow cooked in a pomodoro sugo. Once cooked, the sugo (sauce) is stirred through pasta and the braciole rolls are served on the side, perhaps as a second course. Here, the ever versatile seitan becomes the ideal meaty substitute.
A few notes on seitan and creating vegan-style braciole:
Seitan is a meat substitute created by first combining gluten flour, liquid, seasonings and then simmered in broth or sauce and even steamed or baked. Be sure to source gluten flour, not gluten free. There is a big difference. Gluten flour is a high protein, low carb flour that has had all its starch removed. This process creates a type of flour that mimics a meaty texture when combined with liquid and kneaded for a short time. You will find gluten flour ('vital wheat gluten' as its often called) in specialty food stores, some good supermarkets and maybe even from your local bakery (if you're on friendly terms with them).
Whilst the process of making seitan may seem a little daunting at first, it won't take long to get the hang of it and become a seitan master. I can now whip it up easily and quickly, proving practice does make perfect. The list of ingredients might seem curious, though they are curated in this recipe for maximum flavour. Stick to the quantities in this recipes as much as possible, don't go improvising too much on this one, it can mean the difference between a successful or hugely disappointing seitan. But if you're finding your dough is a little too wet, add a dash more gluten flour. And vice versa, too dry, a dash more liquid stock or water.
One of the ways to successfully cook seitan is to slow cook it in sauce or broth at a very low simmer. If the seitan cooks too quickly at a fast boil, the result can be a fluffy, over-expanded texture. So cook on your lowest stove top setting. This is the method we'll be using with our braciole. Braciole rolls are often secured with kitchen twine or toothpicks. I find with seitan that the rolls remain secure without these tools. But for nostalgia's sake, you may wish to use the toothpicks or twine.
Slow Cooked Braciole in Pomodoro Sugo
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
900ml passata or diced canned tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
few basil leaves, optional
Seitan dry ingredients
2 cups gluten flour
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 teaspoon paprika or smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Seitan wet ingredients
1 scant cup of liquid stock
1/4 cup oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons tomato paste (or BBQ or tomato sauce, even hoisin sauce works)
1 heaped tablespoon Vegemite (Promite or Marmite)
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
slices of garlic, approximately 1/2 garlic clove per roll
chopped fresh parsley
nutritional yeast flakes or vegan parmesan (optional)
salt and pepper to season
2 tablespoons oil to fry
Into a large pot, heat the oil over a low-medium heat and add the garlic. Allow the garlic to infuse for 1-2 minutes, stirring often, ensuring it doesn’t brown. Stir through the passata or tomatoes, salt and basil leaves if using. Cover and simmer over a low heat stirring occasionally.
Into a large bowl, stir through all the dry ingredients. In another medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients until combined. You may need a dash of hot water to first dissolve the Vegemite or vegetable spread.
Transfer the wet into the dry ingredients a little at a time, stirring as you with with a fork until it becomes one large dough. Don't worry if it looks rather strange and nothing like the smooth pasta or bread dough you're used to. Using your hands, knead the seitan dough briefly for 1-2 minutes until the dough holds together and is firm.
Using a knife, slice off approximately 8-10 pieces of dough. These are your steak pieces. Firmly flatten each slice with your hand and using a rolling pin, roll into thin fillets. You may wish to flatten and stretch with your hands. This type of dough is quite stretchy and will bounce and shrink back. The dough may also feel quite oily. All this is normal. Manipulate the steaks into the general shape and size you'd like.
Season each steak with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Lay a row of garlic slices, parsley, and nutritional yeast/parmesan if using. Beginning at the short end, closest to you, roll up firmly, like a cigar. You may wish to secure each roll with toothpicks or kitchen twine. However, your rolls may hold together, as mine do. If you have any seitan scraps left over, these can be added to the pomodoro sauce. Nothing is wasted!
In a large frypan, heat 2 tablespoons oil. Add the seitan rolls and sear briefly on each side, until they have a golden brown crust. Drop each of the braciole rolls into the pomodoro sauce. Lower the heat so the sauce is barely at a simmer. It is vital the sauce doesn't reach a boil or fast simmer, as the seitan may overcook and ruin. The seitan must cook slowly (see recipe notes in introduction).
Keeping an eye on the sauce, cover and simmer on low for 1 hour. Then remove from heat and serve. You may also find the braciole is even better enjoyed the next day.
Serve the braciole with the slow cooked sauce and chunks of crusty bread. Or reserve the sauce and stir through cooked pasta, serving the braciole on the side.