Friday, November 21, 2014

Risotto With Nettles: A Memoir With Food by Anna Del Conte

Anna Del Conte is a name that comes up from time to time if you're a foodie, like to read about food or consider yourself a fan of one of her biggest champions, Nigella Lawson. If you've never heard of her before, you're in for a treat. She's pretty amazing!

Anna Del Conte was born and raised in Italy. She started life in a well-to-do Milanese family, yet as with many in her generation, ended up in quite different circumstances during and after WWII. Finding herself in a much different Italy after the war, she decided to get a fresh start here in England, where she still lives. In fact, for much of her life, Anna Del Conte lived in Barnes, just a stone's throw away from where I live now.

This may not all sound so exciting, but what's missing from the above description is Del Conte's contribution to British culture - she was incredibly influential in bringing good Italian food to the UK. It's hard to imagine a Western country without Italian food and restaurants, but sure enough they weren't always the norm here. Not only did Anna Del Conte write her own cookery books, but she wrote for Sainsbury's Magazine, developed recipes for other companies and did food demonstrations.

Risotto With Nettles is different to any memoir or autobiography I've ever read, primarily because it pairs memories with recipes, involving all the senses should you wish to cook as you read. Anna Del Conte's memories are charming and intriguing, from her childhood Christmases to life during the war with Mussolini in power and living as an Italian expat in London. Reading this book is like listening to your granny tell stories… It wraps you up, draws you in and this case, it quite literally feeds you.

This isn't really a spoiler, but my favorite part of the book comes towards the end when Del Conte shares several stories of her culinary mishaps, reminding us that even the best cooks sometimes make epic mistakes. That said, I'm amazed by Anna's memories of creating delicious, rewarding, enjoyable meals during the leanest times of her life with ingredients being few and far between. It's inspirational how she and her family didn't only make do, but savored even when times were tough.

Like some of my other kitchen heroes, Anna Del Conte didn't start out as a food professional. She always cooked and always ate, but her foray into cookbook writing could be described I suppose as an accident. She was also a wife, a mother and for years had a completely different career. Del Conte reminds us that if we're lucky enough to live a long time, there's no end to what we can accomplish if we put our minds to it.

I highly recommend Risotto With Nettles. It's heart-warming, informative, interesting and full of deliciously tempting Italian food recipes. If you're looking for a great read to enjoy during your holiday time off, this is it… Cook and read. Read and cook. Don't cook the recipes at all if you don't want to - just put your feed up and enjoy reading about the fascinating life of one of Britain's most treasured foodies. 

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