The Fine Art of the Christmas Broth

Drawing by my nephew Gaetano

For Christmas 2010, I decided to do an American Thanksgiving-style menu for the extended family. I ordered the turkey and went to the specialty store to get cranberry sauce and put together a menu. But, this being Italy, I wanted to be sure to serve a pasta course first. In Italy, you always need to have a Primo (pasta course) and a Secondo (meat course). So I chose the traditional Italian Christmas first course, tortellini in brodo (tortellini in broth).

Two days before Christmas, I had a dinner party with a bunch of Italian friends. At one point I was seated with four Italian women chatting about food when I announced proudly that, for Christmas dinner, I was going to do a traditional American turkey meal combined with the Italian tortellini in brodo. I bragged, “I figure I will be busy with the turkey, and I can’t be bothered with making complicated pasta sauces, so I’ll just toss a bouillon cube into water and I’ll be all set. “ Gasps all around. They quickly explained to me that making a brodo with a bouillon cube for tortellini in brodo at Christmas would be disastrous.

So the next morning I found myself at Fratelli Giovanelli, a famous butcher shop in Rome. The butcher’s shop was so packed with people getting their Christmas meat that I had to take a number. I was number 14. When it was my turn, I explained my brodo troubles. The butcher, with his shock of gray hair, and blood-stained white jacket, stared at me for a moment with his icy blue eyes, let out a laugh, swung his huge knife into the air and announced, much to my embarrassment, “Hey guys, we’ve got an Americana here, who has never made a brodo before!!”

Laughs all around. And then they began the list of what I needed. “Make sure she has a chunk of veal!”. “Do not forget the cow’s tongue!” ”Can someone pass a half a capon over here?” “Who’s got the bones for broth?” And on they went, much to the amusement of everyone in Fratelli Giovanelli’s butcher shop.

Drawing by Gaetano

By the time they got through with all the things I needed to make a proper broth, I had a heavy bag of meat to carry and a bill of 50 Euro to pay. And, of course, there was the last little joke as I headed out the door. The Giovanelli brother butcher who was helping me yelled to his delivery boy, “Hey, you, carry the bag for the Americana out to her car. Actually, why don’t you just take her home and show her how to do it!!!” Ha ha ha. Laughs all around. How very Italian — a bit chauvinist, a bit ribald, but funny nonetheless.

[As a little aside, I must note that Italian butchers are incorrigible flirts. There is nothing they enjoy more than chatting up and flirting with female shoppers as they hack off huge chunks of meat.]

Actually, I was laughing at myself all the way home. I had thought I was going to get away with just a bouillon cube; now I was the laughing stock (pun intended!) of Rome.

The broth project took me over three hours on the 24th. My friend, Caterina Bruno, a fabulous cook, called me and text messaged me several times throughout. “You didn’t forget to put the salt in it, did you?” “Do not forget to put in plenty of celery.” “Leave the beef until last.” I was grateful for all her suggestions. On Christmas day, the broth turned out to be a smashing success. Everyone loved it. Ah, the joys of being a broth-making, Mozzarella mamma!

Drawing by my talented 12-year-old nephew Gaetano M.


10 thoughts on “The Fine Art of the Christmas Broth”

  1. Hi Trisha,

    What a great post! And how nice that a simple comment about a bouillon cube led to learning how to make a very traditional brodo, and with all the very best components. Your butcher shop story is a classic. Over the years I don’t know how many times I have asked the advice of butchers, and every time they were of the greatest assistance; they really know their stuff. In Italy now you have butchers who are veritable rock stars – we have a few up and coming, but none so colorful as yours. Your posts are always so much fun to read. And your nephew is indeed talented. How cool to have an illustrator! All the best to you and yours for a wonderful Christmas!

  2. I knew there must be more reasons for choosing to live in this country than just the climate, people, scenery, wildlife, low cost of living (for now) and awful wine. The slaving over a hot stove bit I get, but can you remind me what this Christmas thing is? :-D

  3. Dear Mozz Ma –

    Isn’t it time to head for the butcher’s shop.. the kitchen? I think Christmas in Italy sounds like a time for the guys to head for the TV to watch football (just like their American counterparts) and for the wife to head for the kitchen. Difference is in the US there are more and more places that will sell you a cooked meal to be picked up on Christmas morning or delivered on the 24th. You should check on international deliveries!!

    you might also take some time off from the blog to enjoy Christmas.

    No Mozz NJ

  4. Well, I just had to add something – you’ll appreciate this from my husband the editor. As I scrolled down your post to show him your nephew’s illustrations, I arrived at #3, and quick as a bunny (since you are in bunny mode) Bart says “Ah, and a wide shot of #2.” You can take the editor out of the newsroom, but you can’t take the newsroom out of the editor!

    1. Adri, I would really love to meet both you and your husband some day. I would be interested in hearing Bart’s thoughts on the rapidly changing editing methods. For years we at APTN edited machine to machine, then last year they gave us all MAC books and we are using Final Cut Pro. So, I am getting used to video editing on line. But I am having a hard time getting used to the photo-editing for the blog and often have to ask friends to help me. My friend Francesca Ferracini cropped the butcher shop drawing for me so I could have the wide shot and closeups. It is lots of fun learning all this though.

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