I bought this book, ‘Dear Francesca‘ for myself for Christmas, along with a bag of cooking essentials from Valvona and Crolla, an Italian shop in Leith Walk in Edinburgh. Valvona and Crolla has been an institution in Edinburgh since 1934, and when I was a student there in the 1980s, no picnic was acceptably provisioned until we bought something there. The shop is fabulous, long and with high ceilings, hung with hams and with shelves loaded with carefully chosen produce.
I was delighted when they opened a small cafe at the back, and delighted again when they started selling their stock online. I’m now delighted a third time with this book.
Written by Mary Contini, from one of the many Scottish Italian families in Edinburgh, this book tells the stories of the families that came from impoverished areas of rural Italy, from the countryside near Rome. They bought with them a direct knowledge of the ingredients they had produced from the land, and the recipes that can be made from them. They changed the food culture in Scotland.
There are ice-cream parlours, fish and chip shops, delicatessens and restaurants, linked together from that period. A special treat when we went to visit my grandparents, was to call at Luca’s ice-cream shop in Musselburgh. All round Scotland, Italian families brought their values – use fresh local ingredients, waste nothing, honour tradition and quality, cook with style.
The book is not a classical recipe book, more of a history and demonstration of regional food. Mary Contini successfully weaves together the family stories, the history of Italians in Edinburgh, the food and the recipes. Many of the ingredients called for in the book are in the Valvona and Crolla store cupboard hamper.
I’ve tried out several recipes from the book, divine, simple and authentic. Her descriptive language for cooking techniques has taught me more than most. A good gift to myself and a good gift to others.