Thursday, September 23, 2010

Risotto with Nettles

a Memoir with Food

Anna Del Conte
Random House
London 2009

She was born and grew up in Milan. When war came to Italy, her family had to abandon their apartment and the city for the countryside. Peasants still ate well, but life was dangerous.

This is a memoir of a life seen through food - there are recipes and memories of her native land - from lemon granita to wartime risotto with nettles.

I stumbled across this book quite by accident when I was browsing in our local bookshop. The title caught my eye immediately. Nettles have been important in my life on several occasions and in different places. When we were living at the farm on the island, Glen and I picked the young and tender nettles for dinner. Boiled and served with butter and salt and pepper - delicious with small new potatoes. Later in the season, when they' grown older and tougher, I used them as dye material for spinning and weaving. They produced a gorgeous soft, pale green color.

Anna and her family were evacuated in 1942 to Albinea, a village in the foothills of the Apennines. Life was quiet and peaceful for a year. Then they were moved out of Villa Viani and into the villino next door. It was a cramped and more primitive lodging - there was a lavatory but no bathroom and no heating. Once a week they'd put a large zinc tub in the kitchen and pour hot water from jugs to have a proper, all-over wash.

I went to prison twice during the war, once in February 1944, and the second time in the following December.

After the war in 1946, she moved in with her parents in Milan, and in 1949 moved to London - "a culinary wasteland". She married an Englishman, and while bringing up her children, she wrote books which inspired a new generation of cooks.

I'm not sure which I enjoy most - the stories or the recipes - all sounding quite delicious and unusual.

This one's for you, Nan. I'll miss you

1 comment:

StuckInABook said...

I've been meaning to reply comments on my posts, and haven't yet, but just had to reply to your thoughts on 'not dissimilar'! I think it's definitely an English thing. To me, 'not dissimilar' and 'similar' have quite different meanings - the former being much less emphatic than the latter. But litotes is a British thing, and perhaps it doesn't translate to all my blog-readers... I hope you won't abandon my blog for it :)