My husband grew up with an Italian-American great-aunt who treated veal cutlets like a food group. While I never had the chance to visit the Staten Island home that played stage to so many of his early childhood memories, the stories he tells about her and his adventures in that house are as vivid as reality.
Stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey while clad in all of her jewelry — and hair still in curlers, mind you — is a popular one. As is his Uncle Joe slowly making a Manhattan drinker out of him by way of the cocktail shaker’s dividends topped with a heaping helping of 7Up. The most popular and recurring story I hear, though, is about the stash of cutlets she would keep in her basement chest freezer in quantities fit for the post-apocalypse.
So the story goes, every time the family came to visit, she’d take his little boy hand in her large, heavily jeweled lady-of-a-certain-age hand and they’d head to the Italian butcher down the street. Pork was a fine choice, but for special occasions none other than a dinner of veal cutlets and risotto would do. Back at the mansion, with her electric burner on high, Auntie’s paper-and-twine-wrapped bundle of meat would transform itself into a feast. His favorite part of the meal, being a short-attention-spanned child, was the etched crystal dish of Parmesan cheese passed at the table. It overflowed with freshly grated powder that would flurry over his dinner plate one demitasse spoonful at a time.
I only got to meet Auntie once before she passed several years ago, so I suffice to live her legacy vicariously through stories of her antics, relics of her Staten Island home and attempts at her famous veal cutlets.