Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bra'zhul, anyone?

It was a couple of years ago when I first heard someone pronouncing the word braz'hul, and suggesting that it was an Italian dish. We had recently moved to the US, and we were watching an episode of Desperate Housewives. At the time, the red-headed Brie had a catering business, and got into a fight with an allegedly Italian blond lady, who had accused her of stealing her family Italian bra'zhul recipe.

I distinctively  remember looking at my wife and ask her "and what the F would this bra'zhul be?". It wasn't the first time that the name for an Italian dish or food was pronounced in such a way as to make its original Italian irrecognizable: for a long time, for instance, I didn't have a clue that the food Americans pronounce baloney stood actually for Bologna, something in between a sausage and Mortadella.

But braz'hul? I couldn't make it up. And since the discussion about this dish really took a central place in that tv series for quite some time, I really was curious: there was talk of using a specific red wine, of tenderizing the meat...but the only food that I could think of that had a vaguely similar name was the braciole, i.e. veal steaks simply pan fried in olive oil and served as a 2-minutes meal at night, when there was no time to cook. They were good, but obviously they couldn't be what the desperate housewives were fighting about.

It took me two years, but finally a few weeks ago I solved the mistery. I accidentally came across a recipe with a beautiful photo of what appeared to be a roast of some kind, called "Braciole". And so, thanks to wikipedia - I learnt that braz'hul is actually the mispronunciation of the Sicilian dialect for braciole...and that braciole in Sicilian indicate what every other Italian calls "involtino", or "roulade".

Photo from Williams-Sonoma
So, what is this famous braz'hul? It is a large piece of beef steak, tenderized, stuffed with ham, sausage, cheese, sometimes eggs, rolled as a roulade, and cooked for hours in the oven, often with a tomato sauce.

It is not surprising that most Italians visiting the US have a difficulty in understanding and appreciating what is called Italian-American cuisine. The first Sicilian immigrants who came to the US as of 1900, from very tiny villages, probably learnt that they were Italian when they arrived to Ellis Island. Italy had been officially created only 40 years before, and the news hadn't made it there yet. These immigrants brought with them dishes and food traditions that were unknown in the rest of Italy, but that deeply shaped what would come to pass as Italian cuisine in America.

I will write about the history of Italian-American cuisine very soon. But for the moment, I am just happy I finally know what braz'hul is. And I can confirm that the version I made the other night, with bacon, pork sausage, sage, basil, pecorino and wine-based tomato sauce - is actually very, very good...


NKW said...

It's the big one of the false friends!!!!!!
in romagna we use the word brazùla (doaletto) for the beef grilled, usually during big party with friend: braciolata.
We use the name of the d "braciola" to indicate the type of lunch "braciolata".
In romagnolo "brazùla" and "brazùleda" (not so diffuse).

Tuscan foodie in America said...

I guess this "braciola" is one of those things that has a different meaning to every single Italian city...


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