In Proust’s book À la recherche du temps perdu – which I admit I have never read – the protagonist eats a madeleine and this awakens his childhood memories. Oh, les madeleines, tiny French pastries with a delicate buttery lemon flavour, elegant and refined. My madeleines are instead bracioline al pomodoro, crumbed and fried beef slices that are then cooked in a thick tomato sauce. You should be able to understand what kind of person I am…
These bracioline are my first noteworthy gourmet memory. I was probably five years old, it was autumn and it was the day when I came back home from the hospital after the adenoids surgery. That day marked a change in my life, an epochal change. A universe of flavours and tempting smells opened wide to a skinny, pale, little girl.
I remember that day, I sat at the head table in the old grandma’s kitchen, the light came through the door behind me and an inviting scent reached my nose from the stove, waking up my appetite. Grandma brought to the table a red enameled pan with two handles and served me a thin slice of beef cooked in a thick bright red tomato sauce. She cut it and I began eating.
Here the sources – my mother and grandmother – agree with my memory: a new, intense and unexpected burst of flavour. Granny, what have you put into the meat, it’s delicious! they say I shouted in ecstasy. Grandma smiled back at me and said that it was just like the other times, it was me who had changed.
So, here it is the marvellous food that marked the beginning of my foodie discoveries, a peasant dish, created to increase the available meat, which is passed in a beaten egg and then thickly coated with breadcrumbs, fried and then cooked again with a good dash of tomato sauce, the same they would bottled during summer with a basil leaf, the same we still make. It is so typical of our area and so responding to the need of feeding large families with nothing that my granddad Remigio in San Gimignano used to make exactly the same dish. He even cooked it into the same red enameled pan.
When mum was still working in San Gimignano I used to spend every Thursday with my granddad Remigio. We would spend the sunny mornings walking and searching for pine nuts into the big square shadowed by huge pine trees, then we would come back home for lunch and he would cook these bracioline for me. These memories are so vivid that I just need to close my eyes to taste them again.
I have them here on my tongue, the familiar taste of the tomato, then the soft breadcrumbs soaked in the sauce, like a sponge, and finally the meat, tender as a little girl would like.
These are my madeleines, the first bite of a braciolina and there it is, a film that features a girl in a checkered apron playing outside in the garden under the shade of the lime trees and the acacias, a stone tied up with a rope pretending it was her dog and the fig tree in the late summer where she would climb to eat the juicy fruits still warm from the September sun. A happy little girl, maybe not too refined with her grazed knees, due more to clumsiness than to tomboy adventures!
On Sunday I decided to make them again, or better, to make them for the first time after a whole life of pure enjoyment, and I felt like a child again. The temptation to mop the sauce with a piece of crusty bread is strong, indulge yourself in a memorable scarpetta.
- 200 g of thin slices of beef or veal, topside or silverside
- 5 or 6 tablespoons of breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 400 ml of tomato sauce
- Season the slices of meat with salt and pepper, pass them in the beaten egg, then in bread crumbs pressing with your hands to make it stick well, then again in the egg and finally in bread crumbs again.
- Pour a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. When the olive oil is hot arrange the slices of meat in the pan making sure they do not overlap and cook for 4 to 5 minutes per side, until golden.
- Pour in the tomato sauce and a few tablespoons of water, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 8-10 minutes, turning the slices of meat to flavour each side. When the sauce is thick and tasty remove the pan from the heat and serve immediately.
You’ll obtain the best result with a good piece of beef – you don’t need an expensive cut, just a very thin slice of beef -, fresh free range eggs, home made tomato sauce bottled during summer and real breadcrumbs, made with leftover stale bread. And believe me when I say that it’s difficult to go wrong with these bracioline once you start with good ingredients.
They are unreasonably good even cold and you can turn them easily into a filling for a rustic panino, made with two slices of a country loaf and some lettuce leaves. The perfect sandwich for a school trip, can you imagine unwrapping it in front of your classmates? It would be enough to come back to primary school…