06 October 2009

Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes


Anna del Conte is one of the best Italian cookbook writes around. She was a contemporary of Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson and at 85 is still influencing some of the most famous cooks out there. Actually, she is much more of an influence in England where she is has attained "rock star" status. Pretty good for a cook who has never been on television. By her own admission:
"Well, I did three screen tests. I was not good. It was my fault. People like Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David and I were not brought up to television. We were of a different generation."
I first hear of Anna del Conte when I picked up her book, Gastronomy of Italy, but, frankly, it went on the shelf and I rarely looked at it. Then one day I say Nigella Lawson pull out a copy of one of her books and say that next to her mother, Anna del Conte was her biggest influence. So I dragged my copy off the shelf and began looking at it more closely. Since then, I have added several of her books to my library, and I met Nigella Lawson...


and Nigella Lawson met Anna del Conte...

actually, I think she knew her for many years. She says of del Conte,
"It sounds like the sloganising hyperbole of a junior publicist to say that anyone who cooks should have Anna's books, but it is the simple truth, along with the fact that she is, I'm telling you, the best writer on Italian food there is. Actually, all that understates the case."
Alas, many of her books are out of print. I have searched for years for a copy of Entertaining all'Italiana, but at over $200, I have yet to find one I could afford.

Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes is a collection of del Conte's "greatest hits" and the best you can do if you don't have thousands of dollars to find the out-of-print titles. I don't ever cook much eggplant, because I never saw it cooked as a child and I never really know what to do with it, or I didn't, until I read this.

Lemon-flavored Aubergine

450 g ( 1 lb) aubergines
sea salt
vegetables stock-- approximately 150 ml (1/4 pint)
1 tbsp lemon juice
rind of 1/2 an organic lemon
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tbsp oregano or chopped fresh marjoram
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

Wash the aubergines and cut them into small cubes, without peeling them. The texture of the skins makes the cubes more pleasant to eat and it keeps them in a neat shape. Place the aubergines in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave for no longer than 1 hour or it will become too soft. Squeeze out the juice and dry with a kitchen paper.

Choose a medium-sized saute pan or frying pan and heat 100 ml (3 oz 1/2 fl oz) of the stock, the lemon juice, lemon rind, garlic and oregano or marjoram. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Add the aubergine and cook over a moderate heat, turning it over every now and then. You might have to add more stock during the cooking, which will take about 10 minutes. When the aubergine is ready there should be practically no liquid left.

Remove and discard the garlic and lemon rind.

Transfer the aubergine and any cooking liquid to a bowl. Toss with the oil. Taste and add pepper and salt if necessary. You may like to add a little more lemon juice. The dish can be served warm or at room temperature. It can be made one day in advance, chilled if the weather is hot, but brought back to room temperature before serving.

Both Nigella and I agree -- everyone should have an Anna del Conte book.

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