A Story of Old Love

The picture was forever there in their home: a beautiful fresco of angels, with my grandparents’ names on it. As a child it greeted me at the doorway every summer, the entrance to the heart of their home.

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.

Until 1950s, life in Italy hadn’t changed for generations and my grandparents food was healthier than most meals are now. Everything my grandparents 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 of 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, 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 were 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 tablecloth 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.

The picture now hangs in our home. It is their marriage certificate. I don’t know anyone who displays their marriage certificate. It is beautifully illustrated, a treasured family heirloom and a symbol of a big love story that will never die.

Lavender Infused Ricotta with Beetroot & Lime Tartare by Giovanna Eusebi

Serves 4


For the ricotta

1 litre of full fat milk

100ml of single cream

30ml of freshly squeezed lemon juice

1tsp of salt

Small cheese baskets or a muslin lined colander

2 drops lavender essence

For the tartare

2 whole baked beetroot

A tablespoon of capers

Zest and juice of 1 lime

1 shallot, finely diced

A splash of EVO

Salt and pepper

To garnish (optional)

A selection of salad leaves

Raw beetroot, finely sliced

Whole baby radish, with leaves



For the ricotta

1. Put the milk, cream and lavender essence in a heavy based pan. Using a temperature probe, slowly bring the milk and cream to 80°C but do not exceed 90°C. It should be just simmering.

2. Add the salt and lemon juice to the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes. During this time, you’ll start to see some soft curds forming. If only a few curds form, add a little more lemon juice, just a teaspoon at a time.

3. Carefully scoop the curds out of the pan using a slotted spoon. Place the curds into baskets or the muslin lined colander. The cheese can be eaten warm or stored in an airtight container for up to one week. My top tip for making ricotta; don’t throw away the whey! The liquid can be used in a risotto or when making pizza and bread dough.

For the tartare

1. Preheat your oven to 160°C.

2. Wrap the beetroot in foil and roast in the oven for approximately 40 minutes, until tender. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

1. Dice the beetroot finely, and add the rest of the ingredients.

To serve

Place the ricotta curds on a plate and spoon the tartare mix on top. Dress with optional garnish and finish with a dash of EVO. Enjoy!