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on 31 July 2009
Anna del Conte writes with such disarming honesty about her life, work and relationships that you can understand why, as she tells us towards the end of this lovely book, her mother once commented that she'd better watch out as any husband would want to throw her out of a window after two months. This book contains, I believe, one of the most moving accounts I've read of what it is to lose a life partner, to be alone and bereft - at least, until a troupe of lively grandchildren reappear to brighten the shadows of old age - but there's nothing but sharp observation and energy in this account of an Italian childhood and the terribly English life that followed it after an entirely accidental encounter in Westminster Abbey just after the war.

The author's laconic sense of humour is evident throughout: she takes several hefty swipes at the English, teasing with a discussion of the relative merits of horse, donkey and mule meat that's guaranteed, as she perfectly well knows, to send a shiver up the spine of the average English reader. Using language most editors would normally prefer to avoid, there's a recipe for kids that she allows them to name as `Elephant's Turd', and she relies on what she recognises as a characteristically English disengagement from anything to do with continental Europe to use pretty strong language - but in Italian, so that's alright - about the war.

Those who are interested in social history will find a tremendous resource in the account here of the impact war had on one family and its friends, as well as fascinatingly articulate testimony from someone who belongs both to the culture she was born into, and the one she adopted. There are character sketches of the friends and colleagues who became important at different stages in the author's life which are so vivid that you want to know what has happened to the people since. There's also an absolutely aristocratic disdain for those who have not been liked, who are for the most part conspicuous only by their absence; only Augusta, a thieving servant, is given her just desserts. Anna del Conte admits that there were just two people she didn't get on with amongst the many who emerged to help us improve our eating habits in the 60s and 70s - but she doesn't name them, only remarking that she, like Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson, didn't enjoy encounters with the new, peering television cameras that have come to dominate our lives.

Anna del Conte claims only to have had three fans. Actually I am sure she has many admirers who think she has made an important contribution to the British discovery that good food is good for you. For me, her outstanding achievement is Classic Food of Northern Italy (Great Cooks) which, despite her strictures in Risotto with Nettles on `the English smell' of boiled cabbage and Bisto, includes a startling recipe for savoy cabbage that is stewed for one and half hours! This new book sprinkles stardust on an already successful career, and is a valuable contribution to our culinary literature.
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on 14 April 2010
Really interesting and informative - not so much a recipe book, more an autobiography with a recipe in every chapter. Illustrating that period of her life. Recommended.
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on 17 August 2014
I have to admit I found out about Anna del Conte only recently, through Nigella. In the UK she is considered an authority on Italian food, whereas in Italy she is not particularly well known to the broad public - even if some of her books won prestigious awards. In fact, I don't think an Italian version of this book exists, which is a shame as I would have liked to give one to my mom.
I enjoyed this autobiography very much. In particular, I loved the anecdotes of Anna's privileged childhood in Milan and the description of how her family's existence changed during the war, when they had to leave the city to take shelter in the countryside. After the war, while she was spending some time in England as an au-pair, Anna met Oliver, the man who would become her husband, and moved to England to be with him. In spite of the cultural differences their marriage was long and happy. The description of how she misses him now that he's no longer with her is very touching. Being an Italian who has been abroad for a long time I could relate very well to Anna's feeling 'né carne né pesce' (neither fish nor fowl) after living for so many years in England.
Each chapter ends with a couple of recipes. Most of them sound delicious, but there are a few that are definitely not for me - I don't think I'll ever eat pig's head brawn...
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on 29 August 2009
Anna Del Conte is probably one of the two (three?) best writers on Italian food, Marcella Hazan and possibly Carol Field being the others - OK there are also Rogers and Gray but Del Conte has been going longer than most. She is an academic cook in many ways, drawing on a patrician background but also with experiences of poverty and trying to cook in the UK with few ingredients at that time. This is an interesting book with some lovely recipes (I did a venison one) and fills in the gaps that are left from her cookery books, many of which are out of print. Really recommend it if you like to read about the cook as well as try the recipes - and she doesn't hide anything!
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on 27 July 2009
A truly delightful book, a wander through Anna del Conte's life, almost like chatting with an old friend. Some excellent recipes (don't expect glossy photos though) Would make a wonderful gift.
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on 21 January 2013
Book arrived within 2 days of order. Secondhand but in excellent condition. Contains good recipes and makes interesting reading from the famous Italian food writer. But Ms Del Conte doesn't half love herself which I found off-putting. I did like the book 'tho and bought 3 others for gifts.
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on 27 November 2014
Enchanting little book about the Great Unknown amongst cookery writers. A whole life is here - very Italian, very English. Great Christmas present!
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on 3 November 2013
Fascinating - very lovely woman and interesting to see how she brings both cultures successfully into her long and happy life
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on 29 May 2016
I've long admired Anna del Conte's writing about food, and this book did not disappoint.
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on 15 June 2016
The book arrived in good condition as described by the seller! The story is wonderful and the recipes will make you crave for food all the time :) one of my favourite books :)
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