Everything you should know about Nigella's 91-year-old food idol

If you don't know who Anna Del Conte is, you should get to know her immediately!

You would be forgiven for not knowing the name Anna Del Conte. The 91-year-old home cook and cookbook writer has lived most of her life away from the limelight. However, you may be surprised to hear that she's been largely responsible for shaping Britain's culinary habits for over 60 years. 

Anna, who was born in Italy, came to England after World War II and, during an era devoid of foreign, interesting flavours, she helped form the foundations of Italian cuisine in her new homeland.

Despite being a humble home cook, Anna's colleagues and mentees - from Jamie Oliver to Michelin starred chef, Giorgio Locatelli - consider her a pioneer and none have been as touched as one of Anna's deepest admirers, Nigella Lawson, who is bringing her culinary contribution to the forefront in a new documentary series, Nigella & Anna del Conte.

"I have to say, next to my mother, there's no one who has influenced me more," Nigella says of her mentor. 

"When I was writing my first book, I think Anna was probably the leading influence. I was so relieved to see a book of recipes written by a home cook for home cooks. I knew that I could read that and it would be doable."

Anna's style was shaped by the years she spent in the Emilia-Romagna region after her family was forced to flee Milan during the war. Here, in the Italian countryside, Anna learned about 'cucina povera' - or 'peasant cooking' - which upholds the philosophy that any ingredient, no matter how basic, can be made a hero with the right flavours.

To explain the extent of Anna's influence, it's key to remember that when she arrived in England, there was only one store in London where she could buy ingredients. Britain was living in a period of rationing, nobody cooked with garlic and olive oil was sold in a chemist to treat ailments. There was no Italian food. 

However, as Italian cuisine started to boom by the 70s, Anna was vital in teaching the next generation of cooks and chefs how to perfect Italian techniques and flavours in their own homes. 

To put it simply, through authoring 15 cookbooks, including A Portrait of Pasta and the Gastronomy of Italy, Anna introduced the beauty and simplicity of traditional Italian cooking to England. Even in her 90s, she's still a guiding light for Britain's top chefs.

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