Family wisdom simmers
The sauce pot practically reaches the top of 80-year-old Rosa Nasuti's apron, where the wisdom of Italian grandmothers can be found: "Mangia e statti zitto!" or "Shut up and eat!"
In the back of her son's butcher shop,
Carlo & Son Quality Meats in East Lyme, Rosa spends her Saturdays adding home-cooked meatballs and sauce or other specialties to the selection.
They often sell out by the afternoon.
"I started cook in the old country; I was 6 years old," Rosa says in her singsong accent. "I couldn't even reach the table, I have to have a stepladder. (I've) been (a) cook since then."
Almost every Saturday, her son, Carlo Nasuti, leaves his home in Douglas, Mass., and heads to Boston to pick up his mother. They stop by Federal Hill in Providence to pick up Italian bread from Scialo Brothers Bakery before arriving in East Lyme.
"It's my favorite thing," Rosa says of cooking. "It's my hobby. I can cook 24 hours a day without stopping."
Some cooks guard their secrets, but Rosa shares them with her customers happily. She notes with pride that three of her recipes were printed in her grandson's school's cookbook.
"OK, my sweetheart," says Rosa, a term she freely uses with anyone she's just met. "I'm gonna show what I put (in) the sauce to make a little sweet. No sweet, but take all the acids from the tomato away."
The trick? Baking soda.
"Some people put sugar in sauce to take the acid," she says. "I don't. Sugar don't do nothing."
The other special ingredient: pouring some of the leftover oil after she cooks her meatballs into the sauce for added flavor.
She adds baking soda to her meatballs, too. She uses beef only that's about 80 percent lean- "you need a little fat," Rosa says. She doesn't like to add any garlic because it can be too strong, and goes light on the bread crumbs, which can make the meatballs too bread-like.
Making a hundred meatballs can be a lot of work, but she just shrugs.
"That's why you cook," Rosa explains, "because it takes a lotta work to cook!"
She raised her family with the same values of hard work and enthusiasm about good food.
Carlo, who opened the store a little over a year ago, calls all his customers "my friend." He knows most of them, if not by name, then by what they order.
When one customer picked out a cut of steak recently, saying, "that looks nice and dry," Carlo came around the counter to shake the man's hand. He turned out to be the owner of Chester's Barbecue and a fellow meat connoisseur.
People tend to want bright pink meat, the men lamented. They think the darker cuts look "old." But as the meat loses water weight, it gets more tender, Carlo says.
"I like talking to a man who knows what he's talking about," Carlo says.
But he's equally happy to help the patrons who need advice on how many lamb chops to buy or how long to cook a roast.
Carlo is ready with recipes and even handwritten instructions that he's photocopied.
"There's an attractiveness to that personal touch I've always had, even when I worked at grocery stores," Carlo says.
He started out as a butcher in the old days, "with hanging beef and sawdust on the floor" in the Boston area. He began grinding meat and packing chicken and kept moving up the ladder, using the job to put himself through college.
The East Lyme store provided a chance to work with his 26-year-old son, Nick. Carlo's daughter and grandchildren also help out on the weekends.
"I wanted Nick to learn the trade ... which I think is a dying art," Carlo says. "You work hard, you get up early ... that's what I want for him."
He buys from local vendors, getting meat from smaller outfits that let the animals grow for longer, even though it's more expensive. He says the meat, free of hormones and antibiotics, is more tender and has better marbling, or intramuscular fat.
Carlo also buys local. "It's like a circle. I reciprocate what my customers do for me," he notes.
They get free-range turkeys from Gozzi's Turkey Farm in Guilford, and kielbasa from New Britain. They make their own sausage; turkey roasted with sage, rosemary, garlic and pepper; chicken cordon bleu, and a host of other items.
His food, like his mother's, rarely lasts long.
"When you build a home it stays there forever," he says. "When I do my job right, it doesn't stay there."
Carlo & Son Quality Meats is located at 299 Flanders Road, East Lyme.
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