Our latest article written in The Herald.
THEY were always together, together forever; a love story that lived for 65 years. My grandparents shared a passion for a simple life on the land. They had little money and grew most of what they ate.
Before the 1950s, life in Italy hadn’t changed for generations and their food was healthier than it is now. Everything they ate and grew was organic, seasonal and fresh. Their food love story was interrupted only by voyages to other lands out of necessity to feed their children in the harshest times.
They eloped in 1941 – Maria Lonta was 19 and Armando Gagliardi, 18. A year later my mother was born, followed by three other siblings. They were torn from their homeland when their village of Castelforte in southern Italy was destroyed in the Second World War. Famine took them on a courageous voyage to San Paolo in Brazil.
After packing up every possession they had, including dismantling my mother’s little wooden bed, they set sail, and would live in Brazil for two years. My grandfather found work as a labourer, while my grandmother traded her sewing skills for pasta, tomatoes and oil. A resourceful cook, she adapted her culinary skills, learning to make empanadas and a local hooch called Pinga to sell in a bar. When Armando got malaria, they were forced to make the arduous return with their children, including the little wooden bed, back to Italy. They arrived as they had left – penniless.
A promise of work in Lyon, France took them and their young family to a new life. They quickly learned a new language, found work, educated their children and embraced the Lyonnaise way of living. They set up home 10 miles from the godfather of French Gastronomy, Paul Bocuse in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or. My grandmother adapted her cooking skills once more. She simply was and is, for me, the most beautiful cook I knew.
I have fond memories of her table in Lyon. It was altogether a completely different style of eating from her Italian dining. She followed the French etiquette of commencing each meal with a simple salad – dandelion, rocket, and frisée dressed with a mustard vinaigrette. She cooked escargots and saucisson en brioche. She prepared meals effortlessly for an extended family of 20 plus. My grandfather swapped his Italian apertivo for Pastis, and his Marlboro Red for Gitanes.
On retiring, they returned to where their story had begun, Italy. They had faced hardship and sorrow together with courage and positivity; now they would live out their final years in their “home”. This would involve waking at 4am each day to make the journey on their tractor to Santa Lucca, their land on the grounds of a convent.
My Nonna would skip home early to cook and lay the table. Whether there wer two or 20 at the table it was always pristinely set. Eating at the table in Italy is “una cosa seria” (a serious matter). It was always laid with a freshly pressed table cloth with plates and glasses that never matched. However, there was always a flask of Armando’s wine, Maria’s own olives, cheese and bread baked in a neighbouring communal oven. Every meal would end with my grandfather diligently peeling the fruit he’d grown.
Every day my grandparents had together, they made it a good day. In his final years, my grandfather was bed bound and blind. Maria sat by his bed, lifted him, fed him, washed him and held his hand and adored him until his last breath. When dementia cruelly took away her independence, she returned to live in Marseille with my aunt. She died eight years after Armando at the age of 92. I miss them immensely but their love lives on.
My Nonna Maria’s food, grown and made with love, is what everyone should be eating now. When we opened Eusebi’s, I wanted their food love journey to live on. I adapted all of her simple ways of fresh seasonal cooking. Fighting against a climate of fake fast food, I was determined to slow things down, make from scratch and share some of that old love with a whole new generation.
Linguine with squid, broccoli and breadcrumbs.
- 6 baby squid, cleaned and cut into ½ cm rings and tentacles (your fishmonger can prepare this)
- 30g pitted olives
- 30g capers
- 150g tender-stem broccoli
- 1 anchovy fillet
- 1 vine tomato, chopped and deseeded
- 2 tbsp stale breadcrumbs
- 200g linguine
- 1 whole garlic clove
- 1 shallot, diced
- 1 tbsp salt
- Olive oil
1. Trim and discard any woody stalks from the broccoli. Wash well.
2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the diced shallot, garlic clove, anchovy, capers, olives and chopped tomato. Cook out for six to eight minutes.
3. Add the squid rings and tentacles, cook to chalky white (approximately two minutes). Add breadcrumbs.
4. Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling water with one tablespoon of salt with the broccoli. Stir occasionally until pasta is tender.
5. Add a ladleful of pasta water to the sauce, drain the pasta and add to the pan. Toss on a low heat until pasta and the sauce are well combined. Adjust seasoning to taste.