in case of emergency

Last week I was having guests and decided I needed something special for dinner, so off to the butcher I did go, and asked for a cut of meat for an arrosto. The butcher’s mom was there and took an interest in my request, especially when I asked, cautiously, about the cooking time.

The butcher’s mother is the kind of woman who immediately inspires trust. She is warm and kind and knowledgeable. She looks into your eyes when she talks to you and she talks to you slowly, finding just the right word for each thought, and in the sweet voice of a girl, rather than the grown-up, knowledgeable woman that she is. She didn’t want to meddle, but she was curious as to how I planned to prepare the cut of meat her son had gone to a mysterious place in the back to get for me, and was presently tying up with a piece of string.

I explained how I was thinking of preparing it, and she gave me some tips. Then she very carefully explained how she would prepare it, given the type of meat that it was, the season and the weather, and the fact that I had my own broth on hand, which I’d made from a quarter of a hen and a bone purchased at their shop on Monday.

“Mmmm. That sounds good,” I said. “I’ll try it your way.”

“It will be delicious!” she said.

“Oh, well. I certainly hope so!”

“It will be. You’ll see! All you need is to be convinced that it will turn out well and then it will. Si’ convinta!”

As I was about to say goodbye and leave, she said next time she would teach me how to make arrosto di maiale al latte, then arrosto di manzo, before we progressed to brasato and, finally, when I was ready: spezzatino. She seemed pleased to take me under her wing.

Later that day, after the shop reopened in the afternoon, I went back in to ask about the broth and the flame. How much? How high?

“Oh,” the butcher said. “My mamma isn’t working this afternoon. She’s at home. I’ll give you the number.”

He reached for a pen and a slip of paper.

“Her phone number? At home?”

“Sure.”

“Really? That is so kind of you! Thank you very much, but I’d really rather not disturb her at home just to ask about a little roast.”

“Suit yourself. But people do it all the time.”

“People call your mamma at home to ask for help cooking their meat?”

“Sure. Say they have guests coming and it has to turn out just right. You sure you don’t want the number?”

I didn’t take the number. Instead I asked the butcher himself about the broth and the flame, but he shrugged and said, “Maybe a cup? Not too high. But not too low.”

Luckily, she was right. The roast came out fine on the strength alone of my conviction.

When Seven tasted it, his eyes lit up. “WOW! Mmmm! This is delicious! You made this? How?”

“That’s a very good question. It was pretty easy, actually. We can have it again. And then maybe we’ll do it with pork, roasted in milk, and then would you like to try a nice brasato after that?”

Something tells me I might end up with the butcher’s mamma’s home phone number after all.

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About Jennifer

I'm a freelance translator and American expat. I live in Northern Italy with my two young sons.
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6 Responses to in case of emergency

  1. mauryn says:

    i love it!

  2. Aunt Patti says:

    The last of the neighborhood-type butcher stores around our home disappeared when the Diablo Foods within walking distance closed. Your uncle and I have to go to the Lafayette store (not an easy undertaking given that the main street and parking lots in that town have not grown with the population) to get this kind of service. Even then it’s not from a kindly butcher’s mom. It’s sad to see family businesses and a high level of service disappearing in the states (or at least in California). I guess we just need to save the money to come & visit you so we can see it for ourselves and relive the old glory days!

  3. Melanie says:

    …and now I want to know how she recommended you cook it! 🙂

  4. Jadie says:

    Yes, please, may we have the recipe?!

    • Jennifer says:

      It’s pretty simple, actually. You get a cut of veal from your butcher and have him tie it up for you. You mince an onion and sauté it in a pot on the stove with some olive oil. When the onion is soft and translucent you toss in the meat and brown it on all sides, then add some white wine. When the wine evaporates, you pour in some warm chicken broth and salt (unless the broth is already salty) and a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary tied together with a piece of thread. Cover and cook (I used a low flame) for over an hour, turning the meat every so often and added broth if needed. It is done when a large fork sinks easily into the meat.

      Let the meat stand a little while before removing the butcher’s string and slicing. Serve with a little of the broth poured over the slices of meat.

      On the side, I served oven-roasted vegetables with lemon, rosemary and thyme.

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