Inside Anna Del Conte's food world

'I like my steak rare and with nothing but salt and pepper.' The expert's expert on Italian food, Anna Del Conte has been educating the British about Italy's finest dishes for decades. The Happy Foodie uncovers the secrets of her food world...

What are your favourite cookery books?

The three cookery books I really love are La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene by Pellegrino Artusi, a highly readable book full of anecdotes and excellent recipes, still valid in spite of having being written some 150 years ago. Then I would choose English Food by Jane Grigson, because of the reliable recipes and the notes on their origins, as well as the history of the ingredients. Finally, How to Eat by Nigella Lawson because, whenever I read it, it is as if she is here with me. Her hints and suggestions are invaluable.

Who is your food hero and why?

I don’t have a food hero as such but should I have one I would choose my daughter, Julia, because she always cooks for the family, never buying ready-made dishes, and she is also creative and has not been influenced too much by bossy me.

Do you come from a long line of great cooks or are you the first passionate foodie in your family?

My mother was a very good cook, as was my great grandmother who I remember, aged 90, in the kitchen looking over Nana (her cook). She made the most lovely biscuits, which seemed particularly lovely to me because biscuits were not usual repertoire in our kitchen. It was through watching her, my mother and our cook Maria that I learned to cook, and it was eating their good food which made me want to cook well. My mother made the best risotti ever: a classic risotto alla Milanese – with saffron – which always takes me back the most to the kitchen of my childhood in Milan. And it is indeed one of the dishes I make quite well, with plenty of wonderful butter – no oil, because oil forms a film around the grains of rice and doesn’t penetrate into them in the way butter does. The other vital ingredients are good stock and patience.

Have you discovered any exciting new restaurants this year?

Relatively recently I discovered an excellent restaurant down here in Dorset, in Lyme Regis: The Mill Café, where Arturo the Italian chef cooked me some delicious carrot gnocchi.

How do you like your steak?

I like my steak rare and with nothing but salt and pepper. I love it also with Bearnaise sauce, one of the few things that I have never managed to make well. Eventually, I cut my losses and make it as Nigella Lawson suggests in her excellent How To Eat, and it is always good.

Is there anything you really dislike eating?

I eat everything and enjoy most things, some more than others. What I don’t like is porridge, but I can live without that.

What is your ideal destination for a foodie holiday?

My ideal foodie holiday would be a week in my hometown, Milan, where I would eat with my brother Marco, who is an excellent cook, or at my cousins’ or friends’ houses, who always give me delicious meals. I would not mind, of course, going to a restaurant or two, preferably where proper Lombard food is served.

Who would be your dream dinner party guest and what would you cook for him/her?

I would like Boccaccio, the Renaissance author, for my special dinner guest. I would make him ravioli with masses of parmesan grated on top and hope he would think they were as good as those he describes in one of his novellas.

Anna Del Conte

She published her first book, Portrait of Pasta, in 1975 and became the first cookery writer in England to specialise in Italian food.

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