My day-old fiancé, Philip, was invited for the first time to have dinner with my parents, a terrifying experience in anybody’s book. My mother, a great cook as you know, went to great efforts to prepare a favourite dish in our house, Venetian liver and onions.

She even pulled out her posh plates with the pink flowers on the rim for her new favourite boy.

My mother came proudly towards Philip with his special plate of food. He looked at it with great anticipation, then his face fell. His bottom lip quivered. He almost burst into tears.

‘Mum,’ he said, using the familiar term of a new future son-in-law, ‘I don’t like liver!’

This dish is still my favourite, and Philip still refuses to eat it so this recipe serves two, me and my Mum. Choose calves’ liver if you can find it, or new season lambs’ liver will also be very good.


3-4 tbls extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 piece pepperoncino, dried chilli

2 fresh bay leaves

2 medium red onions, peeled and thinly sliced

4 slices calves’ or lambs’ liver, about 380g

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

1-2 tsp red wine vinegar

Sea salt and black pepper


Warm the oil in a wide frying pan. Add the whole garlic cloves and dried chilli and sauté for a few minutes to gently flavour the oil.

Add the fresh bay leaves.

Add the sliced onion, turn in the oil and sauté gently for 10-15 minutes until the onions are very soft and translucent. This stage needs time as the onions should have no sharp flavour left at all.

Meanwhile prepare the liver. Use a sharp knife to cut away any gristle and slice into narrow strips.

Once the onions are softened, raise the heat to high and add the liver, turning it in the flavoured onions and oil and cook very quickly, 3-4 minutes, so that it is browned, but still pink in the middle.

Pull the leaves from 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme and add.

Now, add the vinegar, turn the liver and cook for a further couple of minutes to evaporate the acid.

Finally, add a couple of tablespoons of hot water to loosen the juices from the sides of the pan and create a sauce.

Season with sea salt and some black pepper and serve immediately, preferably on a mound of creamy, olive oil mashed potatoes.

Mary Contini OBE is a writer and Director of Valvona & Crolla ltd. We are happy to welcome you in our CaffèBar and shop again, open all day. Book and order online: Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.