It is no big secret that I collect cookbooks. Unfortunately for me, I do not have unlimited funds to procure said cookbooks, so I always have a list of items that I am looking for with the caveat that they must fall on $20 range. Many of them I can find, but alas, I cannot afford them, so there is an eternal quest for certain grail. One such grail was Anna del Conte’s Entertaining All'Italiana. There have always been a few copies of this elusive book on the market, but they tended to be priced between $100 and $300. That is a lot of tomato sauce and garlic!
First, let me say that Anna del Conte is not well known in America. In England, however, she is cross between Julia Child and Lidia Bastianich. Sure, now there is big food movement in England, but thirty years ago, English food was a bit of a joke. Imagine what it was like when Elizabeth David and Anna del Conte put forward fresh spicy, Italian creations. Del Conte married an Englishman and that is what lead her from her Italian kitchen to England. Del Conte wrote the first complete compendium of Italian food for and English speaking population, Gastronomy of Italy.
Finally, it didn’t hurt that Nigella Lawson stated emphatically that Entertaining All'Italiana was probably her favorite cookery book. (Click here to read Nigella's touching tribute to del Conte.)Published in the early 1990’s, Entertaining All'Italiana is a throwback to older cookbooks, featuring a handful of line drawings for chapter headings, but no pictures of the food.
So finally, I saw a copy of Entertaining All'Italiana. I knew it immediately as I had memorized its blue jacket with the painting of the plums and walnuts. I knew it would be out of my price range, but surprisingly it was under my $20 limit and I practically hyperventilated at the pristine book and fine jacket.
When I got it home, I admired it for several days before I even cracked the spine. The very first recipe was for Linguine coi piselli alla panna, a flat spaghetti with peas and cream. That very morning I picked peas in the garden and had a small bowl sitting on the counter. It was kismet.
Linguine coi piselli alla panna
450 r/1 lb linguine
freshly grated Parmesan for serving
For the sauce
45g/1 1/2 oz unsalted butter
4 shallots, very finely chopped
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
225g/1/2 lb fresh garden peas, podded, or frozen peas, thawed
1 tbsp flour
6tbsp dry white vermouth
120 ml/1/4 pint single cream
freshly ground pepper
If you are using fresh peas, plunge them in a saucepan of boiling water and cook them for 5 minutes, Frozen peas do not nee this blanching.
Choose a large sauté pan or frying pan into which you can later transfer the drained pasta. Put the butter and shallots in the pan and sprinkle with the sugar and salt. Saute the shallots until soft and then add the peas. Coat them in the butter for 1 minute, sprinkle with the flour and cool for a further minute, stirring the whole time, Stir in the vermouth, boil for 1 minute and then add the stock. Cover the pan and regulate the heat so that the liquid will simmer gently for the peas to cook. They must be tender, not just al dente. Stir in the cream, cook for a couple of minutes. Add pepper , taste and check seasoning.
Meanwhile, put a large saucepan of water on the heat and bring to the boil. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of cooking salt and when the water has come back to a roaring boil, slide in the linguine, a ll at once, pushing them in gently with your hand. Stir with a long fork, putting the lid back on the pan until the water is boiling again, then remove the lid and cook at a steady boil until the linguine is done. Drain, but do not overdrain, and transfer immediately to the pan with the sauce. Stir-fry, using two forks, and stirrings with a high movement so that all the pasta strands are well coated with the sauce.
Now, if your frying pan is a good-looking one, bring the pan directly to the table. The less pasta is transfer from the container to another , the better; it keeps hotter. But if you do not like to bring sauce pans to the table, tun the pasta into a heated bowl and serve, handing round the Parmesan in a bowl.
For my version, I added a bit of ham. It was wonderful. And I can't say enough about how much I love this book. Perhaps it was the quest, perhaps it was Nigella, perhaps it was the first recipe being for peas, but I love it. Frankly, I have long been a fan of Anna del Conte after finding her Gastronomy of Italy. This book is a much more personal journey. Check out our review of Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes,
In the meantime, be on the lookout for you own copy of Entertaining All'Italiana.