Tuesday 21 April 2009

Anna del Conte

I'm revisiting Anna del Conte's earlier works, which I have in Italy in the form of 'Secrets from an Italian Kitchen' and 'Entertaining al'Italiana', and which have now been combined and republished in a new format, under the title 'Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes'.

Highly, highly recommended.

With frequent literary references and the provenance for her recipes often reliably cited as specific eighteenth and nineteenth century italian authors, del Conte is the italian version of Jane Grigson, with all the four-square stature that that suggests. These recipes date back a few decades now, and there are some things which a decent modern editor (if such a thing even exists in food publishing, these days - which I seriously doubt) would probably change - the repeated use of ring moulds for presentation purposes, for example, smacks rather worryingly of the late seventies, and I suspect that del Conte's sweet tooth would be reined-in a little if the recipes were being produced for the first time now (she uses a third more sugar in her meringue mixture than I feel comfortable with, for one thing, and her recipe for chilled zabaglione with strawberry purée is good, but would be even better if the sweetness was reduced significantly).

Marcella Hazan comes across as much more of a practical 'hoofer' than the rather more intellectual Ms del Conte, and I wonder how they got on in practice - Anna was the editor for the first UK version of Marcella's 'Classic Italian Cooking', about thirty years ago, so it's to be presumed that they did actually have to deal with each other. It may be that La Hazan is more accessible for somebody who is still feeling their way, but for anybody who is confident in the kitchen, then Anna del Conte has a great deal to offer. Particular gems from the current collection are her recipes for Fennel with Pistachio Sauce, and for Lemon Risotto (which I noted from bookshop browsing that Nigella Lawson quoted in one of her many books, and then proceeded comprehensively to make a complete dogs dinner of the recipe!) ; del Conte's recipe for Celery purée is good, but you need to use either proper italian celery or else the organic variety, as ordinary british celery doesn't have enough flavour; and her sauce for Duck with Balsamic vinegar works much better with roast pork tenderloin than with duck breast (in general, I wouldn't bother with Italian recipes for duck - the quality of beast available in Italy is generally quite poor, and so no decent recipes have evolved for dealing with it).

Tonight's dinner:

Sformatino of Fennel, with Gorgonzola Sauce

Lamb Mentonais, with Endive braised with Orange

'White' Tiramisu (made with White Rum and Milk, rather than Kahlua, and incorporating crushed Meringue, along with the Savoiard biscuits.)

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