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Valvona & Crolla – Book review

12 October 2009
Valvona & Crolla – Book review

Valvona & Crolla Mary Contini
Ebury Press £25
ISBN 978-0-09-193045-5

A favourite among chefs including Antonio Carluccio and Nigel Slater, Valvona & Crolla deli and café in Edinburgh has been selling Italian ingredients and home-cooked meals to customers in the city since 1934. Valvona & Crolla: A Year at an Italian Table by Mary Contini is a loving and lyrical tome of a cookbook which depicts the produce and recipes that define the shop her husband's grandfather founded.

It is the third cookery book from Contini, following on from her Dear Francesca and Easy Peasy Cooking - which she co-wrote with Pru Irvine - and it presents 200 authentic Italian recipes showcasing the tricks she has learned from the matriarchs of her family.

The book is obviously aimed at home cooks rather than professionals but does contain nuggets of information any chef with an interest in authentic Italian fare will find insightful. Insider tips like how to find a decent restaurant amid the tourist traps of Rome - follow a priest, apparently - will inspire culinary explorations, while stories about the local specialities will sate inquisitive minds. Most notable are dedicated descriptions of local Italian ingredients like truffles, olives and garlic, detailing their origin, seasonality and harvest procedures.

Steeped in Italian culinary heritage and punctuated with tales of her family's trips to their homeland - like descriptions of the lavish sights and smells of Rome at Christmas - it's a colourful and heady insight into the Italian way of life which, more often than not, centres on food. Organised season by season, it follows the traditions, rituals and feasts of the Catholic calendar and recipes are often paired with recommendations for wines to match them.

A section called "How to Live" extols the virtues of the Italian mantra that "to live well is to eat well", while a couple of pages on that wonderful tradition of the apéritif lets readers in on the tips of making their own pre-dinner tipples.

From recipes for making staples like gnocchi and pasta to luxurious dishes like Venetian risotto with langoustines and courgette flowers, and goats' cheese and anchovy soufflé, A Year at an Italian Table is a comprehensive and engaging guide to Italian food and how to cook it.

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