“Too many cooks spoil the broth” is the English translation of the title of this blog entry. So true in the Sacco family as I will explain shortly.
“Troppi cuochi . . .” is the title of the fotoromanzo my class and I watched today in our Italian class. This pseudo soap opera, describing life in a student-filled pensione in Roma, is featuring a scene in which the pensione residents insert their cooking expertise in the preparation of dinner. The dinner culminates in a pasta mish mash carpet bombed with garlic, butter, salt, pepper and the like. Frowns abound as the fotoromanzo‘s characters try to force down the polluted pasta they concocted. My students laughed, especially the Italian-Americans who have witnessed this time and time again in their own homes.
But, their stories can’t compare with mine.
My mom told me this story when I was young. (None of the Sacco males was willing to retell it, despite their story telling talents.) It happened before I was born and it stars my nonna, Giuseppina Cittadino.
One bright Sunday afternoon, the Saccos came over to my nonni‘s house for their traditional family dinner. They included my dad and all of his brothers–Landy, Gene, Chris, and Tony. They all discussed the week’s highlights in addition to politics, business, and current events.
My nonna had begun preparing the spaghetti sauce early that morning. The sauce, an 8-hour venture, was a delicate task, involving a recipe handed down by our family from generation to generation. A Puccini opera kept Giuseppina company as she worked diligently and with great care. She worked in anonymity because all the windows were fogged up and because my nonno slept in late. The tasty sauce included fresh vine-ripened tomatoes from her backyard, home-grown spices, and beef neck bones that she bought every Saturday from a local Chicago butcher shop, owned for generations by fellow Calabresi. She monitored the sauce from time to time as she prepared the other entrees for the Sunday meal.
The Sacco boys showed up around noon, hungry and eager to eat. As they huddled around the sauce, breathing in the rich flavor, a really stupid idea came into their heads. Each, one by one, started critiquing the sauce, slurping sauce from my nonna‘s wooden spoon, adding what each thought would enhance the sauce.
“Manca aglio,” said one.
“No, manca pepe,” said another.
“No. E troppo salato,” said yet another.
Little by little, my nonna got steamed, witnessing the desecration of her sauce but saying nothing as was her way. She didn’t intervene until . . .
My nonno, the last of the critics, entered the kitchen. My nonno, the patriarch of the Sacco clan, tasted the sauce like his sons, grimaced, and then blasted my nonna for making a sauce that was overly spiced.
“E insipido!” he exclaimed.
My nonna, the Mother Teresa of her generation, as pious as Santa Teresa, as gentle as Santa Lucia, hurled a meat cleaver from across the room. The meat cleaver embedded itself in the cornished door frame–an inch from my nonno‘s head. She left the kitchen without a word and, soon after, dinner proceeded in total silence.
No one ever messed with her sauce every again.