Twenty five years ago, I married a half-Sicilian New Orleanian. Anyone who knows anything about Italian boys from New Orleans knows that means he came with a big, loud, Italian family, and an Italian mother who loved to cook. And her signature dish was bracioloni.*
This dish was served at all high holidays, and whenever an out-of-town relative was visiting. All those gathered anticipated it, raved about it, and devoured it. It was the apex of the food experience.
Now, I myself come from a long line of good cooks. Half Cajun and half redneck, I jest frequently that I can cook anything — whether it comes from a grocery store or comes home in an ice chest. From my grandmother’s chicken and dumplings to my mother’s duck, I’ve been taking it in my whole life. But once I figured out the relationship between my husband and his mother’s cooking, I vowed I would never cook Italian food while she was still alive. There was just no reason to put myself through that process. It would never be as good, and I would never hear the end of it.
But the fact is, I really like Italian food, and my kids really like it, too. So I started introducing some entry-level dishes to my husband and kids, like lasagna and chicken cacciatore. They gave them rave reviews, and boosted my confidence. When I saw a local chef presenting his bracioloni recipe on TV, he captured my attention. I listened intently to his technique, and paid a visit to his grocery store/butcher shop the next day. Armed with his advice, a small container of his “secret” seasoning blend, and a perfectly cut flank steak, I decided to give it a try.
It was quite different from my mother-in-law’s version of the dish, which made me feel better. Rather than trying to out-do her, I was exploring my own variation of this favorite. I did all the work while no one was home, thinking I could throw it away without anyone being the wiser if it was lousy. But it wasn’t. It was terrific, and my husband raved that it was better than his mother’s.** I didn’t know if he was just being kind, or if it was actually that good, but when he asked me when I was planning to make it again I was validated. Even though my mother-in-law was alive and well, I had shaken off my fear. An Italian chef was born!
As all good Southern cooks do, I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit, and my family loves it. So when College Boy came home for Spring Break I decided to pull out the stops and reward him for spending the week with us, instead of going to the beach like everyone else.
Following this post is the photo-essay/recipe for The Lucky Mom’s bracioloni. If you feel like trying it, let me know. I’d love to hear how it turns out.
*The exact spelling and pronunciation of this dish is disputed everywhere. Braciole, bracioloni, brocioloni, whatever. It’s a fabulous stuffed, rolled meat.
** If anyone tells her this we will both categorically deny it.