Watch, create, eat with Victoria Cosford’s Italian cooking courses

The herb ricottas ready to go into the oven at Victoria Cosford's Italian Cooking Course.
The herb ricottas ready to go into the oven at Victoria Cosford's Italian Cooking Course.

When Candida Baker put up her hand for a day of Italian cooking with Victoria Cosford, she learned a lot – and ate even more!

It’s the smells that do it. Actually ‘smells’ is too basic a word for what’s happening to my olfactory senses. I’m being enveloped in aromas and it’s making me feel nostalgic, anticipatory and hungry all at the same time.

I’m standing in the beautiful wide-open kitchen in Anna Middleton’s Coopers Shoot house while Victoria Cosford is managing, or rather conducting as if we were a small orchestra, the small team around her who are learning to cook this day’s Italian feast. There’s chicken peperonata with red wine, tomatoes and herbs simmering on the stove, there’s fresh bread rolls with herbs baking; small ricotta tarts are in the oven, and the most beautiful rustic peach pie is being prepared, with the scent of nutmeg, lemon and cinnamon teasing us all with its promise of dessert.

I’m catapulted back to my childhood – to Sunday lunches in our English village when our parent’s friends would turn up and gather around our long trestle table for lunches that to us children it seemed we had to wait forever for – but then there would be that perfect moment, the table full of food, often from our own garden, or from the farm next door, the gathered guests, the bonhomie of people eating, talking and laughing together.

The long table - waiting for the conviviality of Sunday lunch - cooked by the guests...

The long table – waiting for the conviviality of Sunday lunch – cooked by the guests…

In a sense that is what Cosford has created – even though the gathered people are there to learn Italian cooking, and are paying for the privilege, the creation of this Sunday lunch has turned us into a cohesive group all working towards the aim of breaking bread together.

For those of you have read Cosford’s beautiful book, Amore and Amaretti you will know that Cosford has had an on-going love affair with Italy – and a few Italians as well – for many years, ever since she majored in languages at ANU in Canberra in fact. Nowadays, happily settled in the Byron Shire, and in a settled relationship, Cosford is bringing not just her years of experience as a chef, but also – most importantly – her love and passion for Italian food to her teaching.

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We’re a mixed bunch – there’s the owner of the beautiful house we’re working in, Anna Middleton, brother and sister Rosie and Mark Pearce, the well-known Byron and Beyond Networking creators Rosemarie and Arnold Toynbee, recent arrivals to the shire Pauline Waugh and Terry Anthony, AUM PR guru Chryss Carr and her daughter Lily, and Cliff Chandler, whose wife has bought him the day as a birthday present. Oh yes, and me, of course – armed with camera and notepad. We watch with undivided (or almost) attention while Cosford prepares the sample meal so we can see the process unfold, and by the time she’s shown us every step, all of us are starving, setting to work eagerly to recreate her meal, so we can enjoy the fruits of our labour – and enjoy them we do.

Victoria Cosford shows us how it’s done; Rosie Pearce’s Italian apron; Rosemarie Toynbee from Byron and Beyond Networking, and Cooper-Lily and Chryss Carr enjoy a mother/daughter moment…

As soon as the first bread rolls are out of the oven, we gather at the table, and it strikes me how easy it is to prepare a feast when there’s more than one person cooking. It quite definitely falls into the ‘many hands make light work’ category.   The conversation, food and wine begin to flow, and Cosford, at the head of the table, visibly relaxes as her students cheer her on for helping them create this wonderful Sunday feast. This is tasty Italian cooking at its best, aromatic, simple and delicious. I can’t wait to go back.

Baked herb ricottas

Baked herb ricottas


Baked Herb Ricottas:

500g fresh ricotta

100g freshly grated Parmesan or Grana

3 eggs


1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

2tsp dried oregano

Paprika or chilli powder

Extra virgin olive oil

In a bowl beat together the cheeses and eggs and season. Separately, combine herbs. Oil or spray 6 large muffin moulds or ramekins and spoon half cheese mixture into each. Cover with herbs and top with remaining cheese mixture. Smooth surfaces and sprinkle over a little chilli powder or paprika and a drizzle of olive oil then bake in a preheated moderate oven for up to an hour or until puffy and firm. Drizzle with a little extra olive oil before serving.

Roast Cherry Tomatoes:

Toss together 1 punnet of washed cherry tomatoes with salt and pepper, a good pinch of caster sugar, a dash of balsamic vinegar and a slosh of olive oil then roast for about ten minutes or until skins begin to split.

Olive Beer Breads:

3 cups SR flour

1 dessertspoon sugar

1 tsp salt

1 (standard size) can of beer

1 cup pitted black olives

In a large bowl combine all ingredients then spoon into six large oiled muffin moulds or ramekins. Bake for about 30 minutes or until crisp and cooked through. To serve unmould the ricottas and place on individual plates. Spoon around some tomatoes, add olive bread and garnish with rocket.

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Olive oil

4 large chicken thigh fillets, skin on


1 medium red onion, finely sliced

3 capsicum, sliced into thin strips (pref. different colours)

1 tin peeled tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, finely sliced

2 sprigs rosemary

2 sprigs thyme

Chiili flakes (optional)

In a heavy-based frypan heat olive oil and when hot add chicken, skin-side down. Season and brown all over then remove. Drain off excess fat in pan and add onion. Cook, stirring frequently, for several minutes then throw in the capsicum strips and garlic. Continue cooking over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until soft – about ten minutes. Add peeled tomatoes and half a tin of water, herb sprigs and chilli if using. Season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil then lower heat to a simmer for about 20 mins. Return chicken and juices to pan and continue to simmer for 30 – 40 mins, turning occasionally, or until chicken is cooked through. Check seasoning and serve.

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150g butter

75g icing sugar mixture

1 egg

300g plain flour

5 ripe peaches, washed and cut into wedges

75g raw sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

1/2tsp grated nutmeg

Finely grated zest 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 200C. Place chopped butter, icing sugar and egg in food processor and pulse until combined. Add flour and process until mixture comes together. Turn out dough on to floured surface and gently press together, then wrap in plastic film and rest in fridge for 20 mins. Combine peach wedges, sugar, nutmeg and lemon zest in a bowl and gently toss together. Set aside for 15 mins. Roll out pastry on large sheet of baking paper to a thickness of about 3mm. Lift baking paper and pastry on to baking tray and shape into a rough oval. Pile fruit in centre of pastry, leaving at least an inch around the sides, and use baking paper to lift sides over so the pastry half-covers the fruit, leaving an opening in the centre. Sprinkle over about a tablespoon extra raw sugar and bake 45 – 55 mins or until cooked and golden. Serve with thick cream.

Victoria Cosford’s next classes are at Cooper’s Shoot on April 26, May 3 and June 14.

Cost: $125

To contact her email her on [email protected] or call her on 0400189818, and be warned, the classes fill up quickly.







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