I hate exclamation points. For years I ardently refused to use them. I find them irritating. I find them odd. I find them to be punctuation abuse. I don’t speak in exclamations, why would I type in them? To my mind, if you want to convey excitement write some exciting words. Don’t just slap an exclamation point, or worse multiple exclamation points, behind some crap sentence.
Of course, this blog has forced me to grow in various ways and become less stubborn in some of my own idiosyncrasies. Exclamation points are a perfect example of this. The little fuckers have worked their way into my keystrokes, mostly in my responses to comments. The thing is, I really do enjoy getting comments and I typically respond to them with “Thanks” and then something else. If it were just for me, that “Thanks” would just have a period at the end of it and that would be that. But I don’t want to come across as a dour prick– if someone has enjoyed to something I’ve written or cooked enough to actually craft a response to it, I feel they’ve earned themselves an exclamation point. So now it’s “Thanks!” and I mean it. But I do cringe a little bit each time I see the damn thing hanging there at the end of the s. I’m just not an exclamation point guy. And that, I think, is determined at birth. You are either pro-exclamation point or you’re not and never the twain shall meet.
My friend Maurizio, however, was definitely born an exclamation point person. In fact, everything about him might be an exclamation point. Exclamations flow out of him in sort of half Italian, half English proclamations that simply must be worthy of excitement. English is Mo’s second language and while he’s extremely well spoken and fluent, I imagine the book he learned from was titled “English!” and selected, no doubt, on its exclamation point superiority. It’s the only punctuation available that accurately reflects his inherent and constant joviality. Basically, Mo uses the exclamation point, and only the exclamation point, because it’s the only punctuation worthy of Mo. And in that way it’s perfect. In the days when we both lived in San Diego, we’d meet often at the local watering hole over Guinness and deep fried corned beef. Usually the meetings were prompted by a text from Mo that went something like this:
“Ciao! Fratello! Birra at Stout! Cazzo!”
“Cazzo! Birra at Stout!”
“Fratello! Birra at Stout! Ciao! Cazzo!”
And so it went for the better part of 2 years: Hey brother! Beer! Dick! Until one day he changed it up a bit:
“Ciao! Fratello! Birra e brodo! Cazzo!”
That day we abandoned our usual corner at the bar for a trip to his house where he was entertaining several friends, enjoying several beers and presiding over a giant pot of brodo. Upon seeing me enter, he bellowed a typical series of exclamations.
“Ciao! Jake! Cazzo! Brodo! Orzo! Mangia!”
And so I did. And it was brilliant.
Let me say that I’ve geeked out over many a stockpot. I’ve read Ruhlman’s many dissertations on stock, read and reread Keller’s approaches, tweaked my own continually, obsessed over hours and hours of simmering chicken or beef or veal bones looking for that perfect bit of alchemy when bones and water slow dance across time and heat. Good stock is an absolute intangible of good food. And I’ve made some pretty damn well-tended stock. But Mo’s brodo made me forget all of that. It was awesomely rough around the edges, deeply flavored and like a hug straight from his grandmother back in Sardinia.
He served the brodo with some orzo boiled in it and placed the bowls beside two large platters of the boiled beef, chicken and veg that had created it. Sprinkled with a little salt, it was a damn, damn fine meal. More than that, it was one of those meals where a transformation took place— one in my own mind where a stark contrast between Mo’s satisfying and immensely soulful brodo and my own more-academic pursuits of stock came into sharp focus. Mo’s brodo created a feeling and part of it was the extreme comforting enjoyment of a perfect soup, but an equal part was my own foolishness for having spent so much time chasing and perfecting something that would never equal what was in the bowl in front of me.
I haven’t seen Mo in awhile, but I think of him often when I make his brodo– the brodo that has taken the place of stock in my kitchen. There is always some in my freezer and it is liberally added to sauces, braises, risottos or simply fed to any sickly family members along with hot totties and Vick’s Vapo Rub. In short, it’s food worthy of an exclamation point.
This is my version of brodo. I portion and freeze it for quick use in any number of things. But it’s perfect if you just add some salt to it and boil a little pasta in it on a day that’s cold, sickly or just requiring a hug from a Sardinian grandmother who you’ve never met.
Meaty beef bones like shanks or short ribs
A few dried porcini
1 garlic bulb cut in half
2 big onions
A large leek cleaned of dirt
Heat a large stockpot, put in your oil and brown your beef and turkey parts. Throw in your tomato paste and brown. Pour enough cold water into the pot to cover everything by a few inches. Throw in your porcini, pepper, bay, parsley and thyme. Bring it to a simmer, skim it, then keep the pot on low for as long as you can—at least several hours. An hour or two before you’re done, throw in your veg. Strain the whole thing and keep skimming it to get rid of any nasty bits and excess fats. Cool it rapidly in a bath of ice water. Eat with salt and pasta as a soup (with your boiled meat and veg on the side) or portion and freeze it for a later use.
In tribute to Mo, the day I made this batch I salted the brodo, boiled a little orzo in it and then sprinkled the soup with both parsley oil and red chili oil.