Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club which this month focused on Anna Del Conte’s Amaretto, Apple Cake & Artichokes
At one of our Cookbook Club events a few months ago, there was a discussion among the members about how important it is to them that cookbooks have good pictures of the dishes—and a lot of them. There was an (understandable) feeling that you are more likely to set about cooking something if you have an idea what it is at least meant to look like at the end. So ahead of October’s Cookbook Club event, I was just a little anxious to see how everyone felt about Anna Del Conte’s Amaretto, Apple Cake & Artichokes and its absolute lack of food photography.
Turns out that, when it comes to Anna Del Conte at least, no pictures equals no problem. Our Cookbook Club cooks felt that she described the dishes so well they were clearly able to visualise what they were headed towards. It was obvious how many had enjoyed just reading this very lovely book—and that is one of the reasons I was so keen for us to do it at the club. The word should be spread about cookbooks that are as much a pleasure to read as to cook from.
An intriguing nation
Amaretto, Apple Cake & Artichokes is the ‘best of’ Anna Del Conte book and true to her previous work offers insights into the history of Italian food and its regional differences. Recent books, such as those by Rachel Roddy and Katie Caldesi, about a style of cooking from a particular part of this culinarily intriguing nation are really following in the footsteps that Anna established when she started writing about Italian food in the late-1970s, back when mainstream Italian food in the UK meant a generic repertoire of dishes.
For me, the joy of Amaretto, Apple Cake & Artichokes is that it leads with a focus on produce. Then, with the lightest of touches, Anna weaves in the regionality and the history, alongside personal stories of her life in Italy before moving to the UK in 1949 and her cooking life in London thereafter. As a slight aside, I find it so interesting to think that at just the time in the 1950s and sixties that Elizabeth David was writing about how cooks might try to eat in a more ‘European’ way and use more diverse ingredients, the young Anna Del Conte was living in London trying to do just that by cooking the dishes she’d grown up with.
The joy of sharing
The result is a cookbook where we share so much of what Anna feels or remembers about each dish that we want to share in cooking and eating it too. As any members who have been to our events will know, sharing is what the Cookbook Club is all about and as we tried each other’s dishes from the book, every single one was a triumph.
It is hard to pick out highlights from what I think may have been our most exciting range of dishes to date, but I’m going to try: the cauliflower salad with anchovy and pinenut dressing may be the recipe that finally turns my husband on to the charms of cauliflower; the leek and rice pie was a work of absolute beauty and filo skill; and the ricotta and almond baked cheesecake we finished with was as light as air.
The conclusion of the night was: absolute kudos to Anna Del Conte. Ottolenghi for the Cookbook Club in November has a lot to live up to—but I think he’ll manage.
22nd November: Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
6th December: Happy Christmas by Delia Smith
21st January: How to Eat by Nigella Lawson