Our latest article written in The Herald.
I was always at my dad’s side; I was his ‘pal’. My earliest memories of him were standing at the sink, looking up at him. He used to shave with a bar of soap, a short stubby brush and a razor.
I was mesmerised by the short sharp rythmic scraping of the blade. I couldn’t wait for him to get home in the evenings. He would lift me on to the kitchen table and I would sing, “I’m a little teapot” complete with actions! His face would light up and you would have thought I had just performed an aria at La Scala. We would watch our favourite TV programmes together ‘Morecambe & Wise’ and ‘The Generation Game’. He would lie on the carpet and I would jump on his back like little Mowgli hugging him with my life.
He was born in January 1938 and lived in the tenement above his parents’ café on Shettleston Road. His father, Edmondo, was born in Glasgow to Italian immigrants. His mother, Giovanna, barely 16 when she married, came to Glasgow from Italy. Eighteen months later, World War II broke out and my grandfather was called up to fight for the Argyll Southern Highlanders. My grandmother was left to bring up my father and run the café.
Barely a teenager herself, with little spoken English, she survived on ration books. With no money for baby clothes, she would save the hessian sacks the provisions for the café were delivered in, wash them at the steamie and make my dads clothes from the softened material. My dad’s later childhood was certainly colourful by today’s standards. By the age of 10, he had set fire to two homes.
The first time, his accomplices were his cousin’s Joe and Netta (who was barely a toddler). In those days the kids were left home alone above the shop. They found a box full of paper and matches, boredom ensued, and one thing led to another. The fire brigade were called, the children saved, and the box full of ten bob notes belonging to my father’s Uncle Peter in ashes! The second time, he was allegedly practicing his accordion.
His mother, working in the café below, was pacified by the dull stamping of feet; under the illusion her son was tapping out the beat. Instead, young Eddie was sitting by the fire reading his favourite comic. The comic caught fire and the fire brigade were called once again.
By the age of 10, my grandparents had moved to Downhill Street in Partick. Better times prevailed and their café business prospered to ice cream manufacturing. Eddie was joined by a new sibling, Alma. His comic reading days were cut short with endless hours looking after his sister.
On one occasion, he ‘accidentally’ lost grip of the pram handles at the top of ‘Downhill Street! Thankfully, his sister grew on him after that. As a family they enjoyed better times returning to visit family in Italy. As much as my dad loved Glasgow, he loved Italy also.
He inherited the Italian rituals of food and family. The food tied him to his heritage and eventually defined him literally and spiritually. Cooking wasn’t a meal it was an event. He was an accomplished cook, self-taught and a greedy reader of every cookbook. He educated me on the great chefs of the day; Elizabeth David, Franco Taruscio, John Tovey and the Roux Brothers. His prep was meticulous. Every carrot baton and diced onion was cut to mechanical precision. His food was made with love; the flavours of a simple sugo elaveted to Michelin proportions. His secret was using the very best ingredients. He taught me that great food takes time and preparation and that memories last longer than one meal. I can still smell the aromas of his sugo, which would get more and more intense as the day went on.
In later years, when I returned to take over the reigns of the East End Deli, he never left my side. Our background music at the counter was Dean Martin, or occasionally his signature whistling. There were more customers in the kitchen than at the counter. My dad would sit on a wooden stool with a red leather covering, storytelling and reminiscing.
Nestled on the stove between the giant pots of sugo would be a moka pot. He loved people and people loved him. Saturdays were always busy and we wouldn’t move from the counter, making coffees, and cutting cheese and Parma for our guests. His wit and one-liners were legendary. I remember one Halloween he was asked what he was dressing up as, without lifting his head he replied “the invisible man”!
I wouldn’t change the last day with my dad for anything. We spent it in the back kitchen together. Strangely no one came into the shop that afternoon. Our last dialogue was uninterrupted for hours. We spoke about family and he reminded me as he did every day of how very proud he was of his children. I spoke of all the mistakes I had chalked up but in his ever non-judgmental way he reassured me everything would be fine. He encouraged me to be bold, chase my dreams – he believed in me as only a parent can. He left at 5pm as he was going for a curry with my brothers, nephew and uncle. I hugged my dad for the very last time. His death broke all our hearts.
The shop never felt the same for me again. I would look at the empty chair and still be startled by his absence. The music now brought a waterfall of memories and I longed to hear his whistling. In the shock, my friend had gone into the shop the next day and saved some of the food in the freezer and tidied up. Weeks later, while sorting the fridges, I came across a tub of my dad’s sugo. I sat on his chair and held it under my nose. It was literally my last spiritual meal made by my dad. His final gift to me made with his love.
Slow-cooked mutton with salsa verde & artichoke giudea
Ingredients: Serves 4
1kg organic mutton shoulder, boned & rolled
1l chicken stock
100ml white wine
Roughly chop 1 carrot, celery stick, 1 leek, ½ bulb of garlic, bay leaf and small bunch thyme
50gms each of fresh parsley/mint/basil/oregano
100ml olive oil
4 salted anchovies
Dash of red wine vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon
4 violet artichokes, tough outer leaves removed and stalk peeled and blanched in salted water for 5 minutes
4 baby carrots and courgettes, blanched for 1 minute
1. Preheat the oven to 130°C.
2. Sear the mutton in a pan.
3. Place in ovenproof dish with the aromatics, stock and wine.
4. Cover and cook in the oven for 3-3.5 hours until tender, then leave to rest.
5. Pass the remaining stock and aromatics through a muslin-lined sieve and keep warm.
6. To make the Salsa Verde, blend all the ingredients together.
7. To make the garnish, deep-fry the artichoke at 180°C in some sunflower oil until golden and leaves open.
Carve the mutton shoulder into four pieces.
Place one piece in the centre of a bowl and spoon the salsa verde on to the meat.
Top with the artichoke followed by the carrot and courgette.
Spoon the broth around the plate and garnish with the pea shoots.