giovedì 16 dicembre 2010
Not about the broth
Every year, weeks before the day, we discuss what to eat for Christmas lunch. This is the subject of intense scrutiny and, often, of heated debate (well, not really heated, but it makes it all sound somewhat more exciting, no?). We decided to do the fish thing on Christmas Eve, which is what Italians tend to do (more on that in an imminent post).
We decided to mix it up on Christmas day: a little bit Italian, a little bit English (five are half English, and it’s this half of the group that truly thrills to the Christmas pudding and brandy butter concluding the meal). The rest of us – a German, a Russian, and several Americans – do not see what all the fuss is about.
(Hopefully, Florentine Sister (herself half Danish) will attend, but serious canine issues need to be worked out – like, this place isn’t big enough for six adult dogs & three wee puppers.)
The starter (which will happen after the pre-starter, recipe below) will be tortellini in brodo to be followed by roast beef (rosbif, for those of us who live in Italy) with Yorkshire pudding. Marina, Muscovite chum, brings a herring dish which, she assures us, is one of the heaviest holiday dishes Russia has to offer.
Decided to make the broth over the weekend and freeze it. Typically a capon serves as the backbone of this stock, but nary a one was to be found in our local supermarket (presumably other Italian casalinghe – housewives – had the same idea).
Eight pounds of assorted chicken backs/chicken wings/beef bones/turkey legs/ one whole chicken were placed in a large stockpot; the concoction was meant to come to a very slow boil whereupon various condiments (the typical stuff you throw into a stock when making one) were to be added. We put the pot on the wood-burning stove which, after a couple of hours, we decided was really too slow a boil. Even Artusi, who wrote that to make a good broth it’s necessary to place the meat in cold water and to bring it to a boil slowly slowly and never let it spill from boiling “mettere la carne ad acqua diaccia e far bollire la pentola adagino adagino e che non trabocchi mai” would surely have nodded his be-toque’d hat in agreement. So back on the gas stove it went.
Many, many hours later we put the broth outside – lidded, of course – to cool down. It’s since been kind of successfully drained (will have to apply the egg white process pre-serving it in order to remove various residue), put in Italian Tupperware, and frozen. We’ll make the tortellini this weekend, and freeze them as well (thereby freeing up our hands for more important things on the day like holding cups of egg nog and hanging out with our friends).
A messy operation, this whole broth business. Every time I do it I wonder why I do. The Senior Pups got the dregs from the beef bones, and the pretty-much-tasteless fowl products went into tonight’s chili.
A few months ago, Averardo, the Scallion’s urbane gourmet cousin, remarked that he found it a tragedy that tomatoes and olio nuovo (new olive oil, that of the first pressing) didn’t happen seasonally at the same time: tomatoes peak from July to mid-September, and olio nuovo’s pretty much a November thing. Imagine eating a tomato freshly picked from your very own vine (or someone else’s) and drowning it in olio nuovo with a pinch of sea salt! Or imagine eating insalata caprese (mozzarella di bufala, basil, and tomatoes) with olio nuovo.
Recently, I read something shocking in “Tables for Two” in the New Yorker. Reviewing a new restaurant called il Matto in Manhattan, Andrea K. Scott writes, “The tired combination of mozzarella, tomato, and basil is refreshed as a velvety buffalo-cheese soup, served with a dollop of tomato ice and herb-dusted crostini.”
TIRED COMBINATION??? Let me quote the good Dr. Johnson who said, “No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” (Unless you're lactose intolerant), substitute insalata caprese for London, and bring on the morphine drip for Ms./Mr. Scott! She (I assume she’s a she, unless he’s Italian, at which point ‘Andrea’ names a he) has evidently never had a proper insalata caprese; otherwise, she/he would never pen such a blasphemous thought. “Velvety buffalo-cheese soup?” Oh, my. Tomatoes in November? Oh, my, my. How would they taste of anything (unless, of course, the chef has studied with Ferran Adria and has infused that tomato ice with essence of tomato via blow-torch chemistry lab technique)? I digress …
For true fans of a properly executed insalata caprese – and we know who we are – there’s nothing like the first one of the season, usually sometime in early July. The cheese is at room temperature (and has been all morning, if it’s not too hot), it mingles with the tomatoes and olive oil … and, in fact, mopping it up with bread or, indeed, drinking the liquid is always the perfect way to finish off the plate. (Perhaps we could call that soup and perhaps it would find a place on the menu at il Matto?)
Now just imagine that with olio nuovo.
The following recipe is a wintry insalata caprese. No basil’s in this because it’s not growing outside right now, but arugula is. It will probably precede the tortellini in brodo.
Insalata caprese d’inverno/Winter Salad from the Isle of Capri
Two large handfuls arugula, spun dry and coarsely chopped
½ lb. freshest mozzarella di bufala, at room temperature, chopped into chunky cubes
¾ c. sundried tomatoes, in oil, drained and chopped
2 T. brine-packed capers
1 T. dried oregano, preferably Greek, perchance Calabrian.
A liberal amount of olio nuovo
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
About a half hour before serving, put the mozzarella di bufala in a bowl, toss liberally with olio nuovo, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Then throw in all the other ingredients, toss, taste for seasoning, and bring the salad – and the bottle of olio nuovo – to table.
This comfortably serves two, with nothing left over for any dog at all.
VARIATION: substitute the sundried tomatoes with green olives, pitted and chopped. It would be even tastier if you could find green olives with garlic, a wee bit of hot peppers, and oregano.
(If you can’t find the best quality mozzarella di bufala, don’t try this at home.)
Pellegrino Artusi, La Scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangiar bene, Firenze, 2003. He suggests adding grilled onion to the mix, but cautions: producing wind, this is not for all stomachs “questa essendo ventosa non fa per tutti gli stomachi.” He also thinks broth tastes better if made in a terracotta pot (as opposed to iron or copper).
Review of il Matto in the November 15, 2010 New Yorker. Let the record also show I’m sad I’ll never get a table at El Bulli (www.elbulli.com), and that if I were in Copenhagen, I’d make a dash for Noma (www.noma.dk), if lucky enough to get a table.
For more on S.J.’s witticisms, go to www.samueljohnson.com.