Thursday, 26 July 2012

Dear Francesca

dear francescaOne of those serendipitous finds in the library – I picked this off the shelf in the cookbook section – it looked like a novel in size and shape, and my niece is called Francesca, so I was intrigued.

It is the story of two Italian families who settled in Edinburgh and how their love of good food became the focal point of their lives. The author is Mary Contini of the “Valvona & Crolla” family who run Edinburgh’s #1 Italian Deli.

You can read about Mary and her husband here in this Delicious Magazine Interview, and the deli website is here.

Why did I love this book? For a start, the food writing is up there with Nigel Slater’s, in that it made me salivate like Pavlov’s dogs. I am not sure that it is a good book to read when trying to lose weight – I just wanted to go and cook all these fabulous dishes laced with butter and olive oil and cream…

CrollaBut the other thing is the wonderful collection of anecdotes – all about these two amazing, loving, funny Italian Catholic families and their traditions [there is a family tree at the front of the book, so you can check which granny/auntie/nephew is being written about!!] So much of the stuff from the old country is transported into the Scottish environment- and it was fascinating to read.

I loved the story of the little boy sent down the mountain to buy his first proper shoes, to wear for his first Holy Communion. He did not return and they sent out search parties – to no avail. The worst was feared [bandits, wolves…?] but he returned home two days later, beaming, proudly wearing his new shoes. He had not realised he was supposed to cut the string which held them in a pair on the market stall- so had shuffled with tiny footsteps all the way home, sleeping under bushes at night, clutching his precious new footwear to his chest!

rigatoniOr the family name of ‘socks’ for rigatoni. So called because Nonna Marietta was always knitting socks for her beloved, who was away fighting in the trenches in WW1. As she got older, she kept knitting the socks but could no longer turn the heel- so had a backlog of long knitted tubes, ridged up the sides, awaiting someone else to turn the heels for her!

And in between the stories are the recipes – Mary has written this book for her daughter Francesca, to pass on the legacy of Italian family history and the family recipes. It is full of common sense and wit – and beautiful black and white photographs – most of them more than 50 years old. It is, as it says on the cover ‘a journey of recipes recounted with love’

I probably ought to mention the recipes in more detail – but there are so many, and I cannot decide which one. She does suggest buying Jus-Rol flaky pastry rather than bothering to make your own though – and always using Maldon Salt [which is from Essex]

When I checked out the V&C website, it was good to read that Francesca has just given birth to a baby boy – Alfonso James Mackie. One wonders if he will follow in the family foodie tradition!

This book was a lovely summer read – redolent with Italian Sunshine, and happy families. One to be enjoyed with a good cup of coffee or maybe a chilled glass of white wine. A pleasant discovery indeed!


  1. It just so happens that we are off to the library today, so I'll see if they have the book.

  2. This sounds like a marvelous read, I love the tale of the little boy and his shoes.

    Definitely a book I'll be looking out for.

    Sue xx

  3. This looks wonderful - thanks for the recommendation! (I'd heard of Valvona & Crolla through the books of Alexander McCall Smith - it seems as though one or another of his characters is always going there to buy olive oil.)

  4. I'll have to look out for this book, it sounds like a great read as well as the recipes. Thanks.

  5. Yes, I am the Sue that commented above, I seem to have my alter ego the little lavender sprigs instead of my usual 'sue15cat' appearing now.

    Off to look at your Jamie reviews now, not that I'll let them influence mine of!!

    Sue xx

    1. enjoy yourself! but ignore all distractions if you are aiming for a 30-minute Jamie meal x

  6. Delicious Magazine Interview is an interesting name for a magazine.


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