Our apartment in Rome had no refrigerator, just an ice box. As a result I marketed daily and tried to use everything as quickly as possible. Fortunately my neighborhood was wonderful for shopping. Across the street was a huge enclosed market that sold vegetables, flowers, herbs, and fish. The lamb and poultry and pork butchers were nearby, as was the formidable beef and veal butcher. Somewhat beefy himself, he stood very tall and round on a marble platform, bellowing in Roman dialect to all who entered or strolled past his shop. He taught me to plan my weekly menus in conjunction with his delivery schedule. I bought veal liver and sweetbreads on Monday when he received his delivery of two large steer and four calves. By the middle of the week we had worked our way down to the filets, steaks, and roasts, and at the end of the week there was his special leg of veal, rolled, tied and bedecked with rosemary branches, prominently displayed in the window. I first prepared his rolle, as he called it, as a novice cook, expecting friends on a Saturday. I asked his advice on how to cook it and went to work. No need to worry about storing leftovers—the veal was so delicious we demolished it in one sitting.
Before returning to the States I begged a demonstration from him on how to roll and stuff the leg myself. Years later, when researching some menus for the restaurant’s Wednesday series on Italian regional cuisine, I discovered that this was not after all a Roman dish but a specialty of Piemonte. Yet my old butcher’s personality is so firmly stamped in my memory that whenever we cook his rolle I think of Rome.