LEE CONETTA is Glasgow food royalty. Each week, she shares memories and recipes from a life less ordinary in the city and beyond.

This week, there is drama at Venice airport, and we learn how to make a classic Italian supper.

MANY years ago, I was on holiday in Italy with my sister Phyllis, my daughter Marcella and my niece Marisa.

My parents had a flat in Lido de Jesolo near Venice and we often went for a break.

This particular time, we were heading back to the airport to go home – it was at night, thunder and lightning all the way, I remember – they do get some storms in that part of Italy.

We arrived and checked in and went to Customs, but the officer told us not to head on to the departure lounge as our flight had been delayed – until morning.

So we sat down beside the Customs desk and started chatting and guess what? The conversation soon turned to food. We discussed our shared love of Italian food, from pizza to elaborate dishes.

After about an hour, the friendly officer said: ‘Signora, are you hungry?’ When I said we were, he turned to his colleague and said: “Go and put on a pot of sugo for the lady.”

Sugo is an Italian tomato sauce, very delicious. I thought he was kidding – we were in an airport, after all, and I looked round and could see no kitchen. Another hour passed by, and his phone rang.

He answered it and beamed: “The sugo is ready now – we can go and eat.”

Lee, centre with her late husband Joe, left, and family.

Lee, centre with her late husband Joe, left, and family.

We were a bit taken aback, but we followed him out of the airport, and he took us across to the nearby barracks where young men from Venice would carry out their national service. I was now feeling a bit apprehensive. We walked in, and there was a table, beautifully set with sparkling dishes and cutlery, wine, beer and soft drinks.

We sat down, and our friendly customs officer presented us with the biggest plate of pasta - it was very surreal, but we ate, and had a lovely time, chatting with our new friends and I told him all about the rest of my family, including my son Antony, who was coming to Venice that morning.

When we finished, the officer took me aside with a serious face. I gulped. Had I brought my sister and the girls into a dangerous situation?

“Do you think you could help us wash the dishes?” he asked, apologetically. “We cannot leave a mess….”

I laughed in relief and said we could – so we tidied everything up and went back to the airport.

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As we waited to board, the Glasgow flight landed, and I spotted Antony – carrying two big sun loungers. Before I could say anything, a different customs officer shouted ‘FERMATI – STOP’ and hauled him over.

“That’s my son,” I said to our friend, who immediately ran up to my bewildered son, shouting, ‘ah, it’s Antonio, welcome,’ and telling his colleagues, ‘it’s okay, he is Antonio, it is fine’…

Antony could not understand why these customs officer knew who he was – it was very funny.

The sad thing for me is that I never took our friend’s name or address.

I would have loved to send him a thank you from Scotland, for making us a beautiful meal in the most unexpected of places.

Cooking with Mrs Conetta

Cooking with Mrs Conetta


In honour of my friendly Customs officer and his delicious tomato sugo, here is my take on a classic Italian supper dish. Enjoy!


4 tbsp olive oil

4 tbsp tomato puree

1 x 680g passata

6 fresh basil leaves

80g freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cloves garlic


Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat and add the garlic. Fry for two minutes.

Stir in the puree and passata and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the basil leaves.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water for 10 minutes – don’t forget to add salt, or no matter what sauce you add, the pasta will be tasteless.

Drain the pasta thoroughly and tip back into the same pan.

Pour over the sauce and stir for one minute to allow the flavours to combine.

Sprinkle the Parmesan over the top and serve. You can also add some cherry tomatoes on the top if you like. This should serve six.