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.
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!