Little shop of wonders
Celebrating happy days and a taste of summer, by Giovanna Eusebi
‘Alimentari” is the word for grocery store or deli in Italian, its literal meaning is good food and camaraderie. That is what was celebrated each day in our deli in the east end and in the current west end restaurant today. The business then, as it does now go beyond commerce, it is about the people who come to eat with us and the people who work here. That is what makes Eusebi so special.
The east end shop was often described as a beacon of light in an area of Glasgow that was cited by the World Health Organisation as having the lowest life expectancy in Europe. It was renowned for its bad diet, crime, betting and boozers and it certainly wasn’t on the map as a culinary destination. I, however, experienced only heartfelt kindness and priceless generosity of spirit. When you pushed the door open to our hole-in-the-wall Italian shop, the smell of Mortadella sausage, prosciutto and stinky cheeses hit you. It was cramped and there was only room for customers to stand if they wedged themselves between shelves of pasta, oils and a primitive fridge cabinet that was filled with higgledy-piggledy cheeses and meats. The counter was crammed with pizza and calzone freshly made by my Mum that day.
We made everything from scratch in the deli. Pasta was rolled on an ancient imperia machine and meatballs hand-rolled to perfection by a sprightly 100-year-old called Maria. The food was as full of love as the people who made it and it still is to this day. Maria worked with us until she was 100. The unstoppable centenarian would arrive at 2pm each day, having walked 40 minutes from one end of Shettleston to the other. She would stand at the door coquettishly, looking through to the kitchen, until she was invited in. Maria would put on her pinny and begin her task of rolling pasta and meatballs, ready for cooking. She had the nimblest hands and would put any chef to shame. Her stories were ones of hardship of another time but she never dwelled on the past.
Occasionally she would interrupt her shift with a visit to the dentist (she still had all her own teeth!), or a trip to the hairdressers to maintain the blue-black tones of her hair. “Here comes Liz Taylor,” my father would shout from the kitchen.
She revelled in the playful attention and giggled like a schoolgirl. I put her longevity down to her young-at-heart spirit. She never saw ageing as a battle, and if it was, she definitely won.
In the evenings I would carry her bags up one flight of stairs. Just like her appearance, everything about her home was immaculate. She would settle back into her armchair and pick up where she left off with her sewing. I watched in disbelief as she pushed the limp thread through the needle with ease – she didn’t even wear glasses.
The evenings were a time of quiet reflection. She was a gentle sweet soul, of great faith as well as a proud mother, grandmother and wonderful friend to all. Her parting words to me each night were, “good people are scarce”. My father would brush away her sentimentality with the one-liner, “well that’s another day done and another one nearer the box for us all”. She would laugh uncontrollably, as we hugged her tight.
The little shop was like any typical grocer’s dotted around the hillside towns in Italy. It just happened to be sandwiched between a kebab shop and Neil Casey’s bookies. Occasionally, a sharp reminder of our location would fall through the door demanding a tin of dog food or 20 Benson. We got tired of explaining that we were not a newsagent or betting shop. Instead we embraced it, with my dad shouting, “sorry Jimmy, we’ve just sold the last tin of Chum”.
Pomodoro Summer Soup
If you know me, you’ll know my love of tomatoes! Now is the perfect time for this summer soup as tomatoes are in season and have their fullest flavour. It’s a great way to use up any tomatoes that are overripe as this only adds to the flavour of the dish. This simple recipe is like summer in a bowl and quick enough to whip up on a weeknight when you fancy something special and a real burst of flavour.
500g overripe tomatoes ½ garlic clove
20g fresh basil
30ml extra virgin olive oil Tsp dried oregano and thyme 1 thick slice, slightly stale crusty bread
Salt and pepper, to season
A few basil leaves and few teaspoons of ricotta cheese
1. Place the tomatoes in a food processor and blitz until liquid. 2. Add the bread, basil, thyme, oregano, garlic and olive oil to the processor and blend. If the consistency is too thick add a little water to thin. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Transfer the liquid to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
4. Stir the soup well and then divide amongst the bowls. 5. Crumble the ricotta and sprinkle a little on top of each bowl along with a basil leaf. Serve with a glass of your favourite wine and enjoy!