This week I have really started to feel that Christmas is truly on its way. Now I know the lights have been up since August and commercial hype was started long ago, but I was not paying much attention. That was until I woke up with the realisation that I have so much to do and so little time to do it in – and I will be adopting a flat out running pace and a ninja multitasking ability until the end of year!
The very thought of embarking on the round of Christmas dinners and parties is quite exhausting, so I am taking off to Iceland this weekend to escape it all and hopefully catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights to put me firmly in the mood for the great aspects of the season.
Thankfully, I discovered another welcome escape this week in the book Risotto with Nettles which is a wonderful memoir in food by legendary chef Anna Del Conte. This is a remarkable autobiography of someone who genuinely has a life worth talking about and getting excited over.
Anna Del Conte firmly put pasta and the rest of Italian cooking on our map in the UK. Nowadays, we cannot do without pasta for a quick supper, but this is where it all began. If you haven’t heard of her before, she was the inspiration for Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith, has written cookery books, helped create some of the first sauces and Italian ready meals we could conveniently buy and contributed to magazines over the course of her life. Born in 1925 her memoir details her passion for food and the events that shaped her life around it.
Her early years are simply divine as she details Italy before the war. She reminisces about her mother, her grandmother and the various cooks that worked in their household and the recipes they imparted with her. She talks about her aristocratic background in Italy and the wonderful events and dinner parties she was exposed to as a child.
During the war, when food was rationed and her family lived in a state of fear from dictatorship and enemy attacks, Anna reveals the foods which can still bring to mind bittersweet memories – such as Risotto with Nettles [she jumped in a Nettle patch to avoid an attack].
Each chapter ends with a few recipes which evoke the memories for that period of her life. Some are not fancy, such as Spaghetti with Marmite which she makes for her Grandchildren, or Lemon Granita from when she and her brother Guido used to dash to the attic to scoop the snow on the roof into cups to make the recipe. Some are wonderful Italian classics such as Carbonara or Gnocchi and of course there is my personal favourite and something that will be on my list to make this Christmas – Cream and Marrons Glacé Bombe.
Anna also reveals her experiences in England and coming to terms with adopting a country that is not her own, firstly in London and now in Dorset. She discusses with ease and tact intimate secrets and reflects on her marriage and her life here in the UK including the build up and success of her cookery writing. She even dedicates a chapter to cookery disasters which helps add to the enormous amount of humanity displayed in the book. I challenge anyone not to be moved by her story which spans one of the most interesting times in history.
This book is a joy to read and I could not put it down, I love the fact I will go back and use the recipes and it has brought a bit of Italian warmth into my home. If you are a foodie you will adore this book and the emotional connection that she brings to the food will no doubt make trying the recipes at home taste all the sweeter.
Risotto with Nettles, Published by Chatto and Windus