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Issue 34 - Auld alliances

Scotland Magazine Issue 34
August 2007


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Auld alliances

This issue, Sue Lawrence provides some recipes celebrating Scotland's historic associations with France and Italy

There has been a strong Italian community in Scotland for decades. Italians arrived in Edinburgh as early as the 1860s when, according to author of Dear Francesca, Mary Contini, they would congregate on Sundays at Church in the Cowgate for Mass then afterwards sit under the leafy elm trees in the Grassmarket, reminiscent of the piazzas they left in Italy.

The influence is felt in Scotland as it is the world over, with pasta, pizza and risotto cropping up on all restaurant menus, not simply those specialising in Italian fare. But there is one unique item Italians brought to and developed in Scotland and that is our wonderful Italian ice-cream. Classically made only from milk (and sugar of course) instead of cream, it is milky white rather than golden and creamy. The taste is clean and refreshing and flavours made by Italian ice-cream makers in Scotland (Luca’s in Edinburgh, Janetta’s in St Andrews and Visocchi’s near Dundee) include basic vanilla, strawberry, tablet and the more unusual Irn Bru sorbet.

The French-Scots connection is even older than the Italian one, with the first formal Auld Alliance treaty between the Scots and French in 1295, which was a pact against England.

The claret trade having begun in the late 13th century with Scottish merchantmen sailing directly to Bordeaux from Edinburgh’s port of Leith, this continued for centuries. And so, years and years before the English had taken to drinking claret regularly, we were trading with Bordeaux – not only drinking their wine, but also incorporating it into sauces, ragus and even desserts. In England claret was only the preserve of a wealthy minority, whereas in Scotland it was the drink of the people.

As well as wine there was much culinary interchange, including our use of French names in Scots weights and measures until 1603 and the Union of the Crowns with England – and also in culinary terms. Scots still refer to a large serving dish as an Ashet; a gigot of lamb or mutton is our way of saying a leg of lamb. A famous Scots chicken dish, Howtowdie comes from the Old French word ‘hetoudeau.’ Scots writer F Marian Macneil wrote in her seminal book The Scots Kitchen in 1929: “If every Frenchwoman is born with a wooden spoon in her hand, every Scotswoman is born with a rolling pin under her arm.” This was to substantiate her belief that the Scots were and are the best home-bakers in the world. You might find a fine tarte aux pommes or croissant in a French patisserie but it is in the average Scottish household that home-baking (shortbread, bannocks, cakes, buns) flourishes.

Former president of France, Jacques Chirac’s recent remark about Britain that: “You can’t trust people who cook as badly as that,” may not have endeared him to us. Perhaps he was unaware that much of the fabulous seafood in Paris is Scottish; our ingredients are some of the best in the world and that is why discerning French palates take our sublime ingredients and cook them in true French style.


400 g short pasta (I like penne rigate)
4 tbsp olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, peeled, chopped
500 g ripe, firm tomatoes, peeled, diced and patted dry
1 cooked lobster, meat removed, cut into chunks
Handful basil leaves, torn

1. Cook the pasta

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan, add the garlic, cook for one minute then turn up the heat and add the tomatoes to the pan, bubble away until thickened slightly (3-5 minutes)

3. Add the lobster salt, pepper and enough basil to flavour but not overpower. Heat through gently for a couple of minutes

4. Check seasoning, drain the pasta, tip the tomato and lobster sauce all over. Toss and serve at once


25 g / 1 oz butter
1 large onion, peeled, thinly sliced
1 level tbsp plain flour
600 ml / 20 fl oz chicken stock, hot
55 g / 2 oz grated farmhouse cheese eg. Mull Cheddar

1. Heat the butter in a pan, then add the onion, stir, then cover and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes

2. Increase the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until golden brown

3. Add the flour and cook for one minute, stirring constantly, then stir in the hot stock

4. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, then season to taste

5. Ladle into warmed bowls, sprinkle with cheese then serve piping hot


The classic tiramisu is said to have originated in Venice only in the 1950s so is not as old as some may think.

My recipe here is based on a divine tiramisu I enjoyed in the fabulous Hotel Ritz Madrid. Innovative chef Jorge Gonzalez uses Baileys instead of Italian Marsala. Using his exquisite recipe as my base, I have introduced Scottish Drambuie instead: from Italy via Madrid to Scotland!

500 g / 1 lb 2 oz mascarpone cheese
100 g / 3 1/2 oz golden caster sugar
4 large free-range eggs, separated
200 ml / 7 fl oz strong black coffee
150 ml / 5 fl oz Drambuie
175 g / 6 oz savoiardi (sponge fingers)
sifted cocoa or grated chocolate

1. Place the mascarpone, sugar and egg yolks in a bowl and beat well

2. Whisk the egg whites into soft peaks then gently fold in, a little at a time

3. Mix the coffee and Drambuie in a bowl. Dip in the savoiardi, to soak,then arrange half in a shallow serving dish

4. Dip only briefly – they break up if they are too soft – you may not need all the liquid

5. Spoon half the mascarpone mixture over the top, cover with another layer of dipped savoiardi then cover with the remaining mascarpone

6. Smooth the top, cover and refrigerate for at least six hours, then decorate with cocoa or chocolate