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Italian home cooking at its very best
on 8 September 2011
Anna del Conte never disappoints: her cookbooks are heirlooms for many generations of cooks to come. The premise of "Cooking with Coco" is to provide a useful and imaginative series of recipes that parents and children can enjoy cooking together, as a team, from the age of 3 till the teenage years. The book is split into four sections. The first, "Mixing and Messing" is about introducing toddlers and primary school children to the simpler recipes and techniques, such as making minestrina, a light broth with pasta, or a broad bean and goat cheese salad, bruschetta and sweet, milky puddings.
By the age of six, children are ready for "Chopping and Cutting", and the gentle art of making ravioli and cappelletti stuffed with ricotta and herbs, or farfalle with ham and peas, granny's own fish fingers and soft chocolate nougat.
At the age of nine Thai chicken with noodles, a meat roll with mushroom sauce and a cream and coffee trifle are all achievable in "Inventing and Creating". The teenage years provide more complex and layered menus with eggs in a pasta nest, a Swiss chard torte, a cake of chocolate and bananas and brandy snaps filled with cream. "The Budding Chef" is a chapter which showcases Coco's greater independence and control in the kitchen. Anna writes: "Whether she will become a fully-fledged chef is immaterial. What she will always be is a good cook, who, I hope, will one day teach her own children the importance and the pleasure of good food in a family."
Throughout the book, Anna provides hints and tips of working with "your own Coco", how to ignite children's interest in food, how crucial it is to taste and to communicate with children about seasonings, likes and dislikes, the importance of the seasons and good quality ingredients. "A good dish begins in the shop" Anna quotes her own mother in some sections, and believes that "frequent exposure to good food and systematic analysis will teach so much."
Jason Lowe's photographs in "Cooking with Coco" show Anna and the children completely immersed in preparations. On one page they are buying fruit and vegetables at Gold Hill, her local shop in Child Okeford. Next, Anna is overseeing pasta making, as her grandson Johnny is whirring the handle of the Imperia pasta machine. Granny is then seen in the vegetable garden slicing cabbages with Coco and Kate, watching carefully and guiding closely. From shelling peas, to making pesto to frying little pizzas, the quiet rhythm of domestic activity and familial companionship are imbued in the pages of this captivating journal.
I challenge any cook to pick up this book and not want to ear mark every other page: for holiday breakfasts, Sunday lunches, birthday parties, get togethers, after-school treats and everyday suppers. This book is the ultimate collection and repository of the useful, practical and frugal Italian repertoire of "la cucina casalinga": Italian home cooking at its very best.