“What’s THAT?” demands my daughter accusingly. I’d sneaked into the kitchen whilst she was watching TV to make her a snack inspired by my latest Italian reporting trip. ” Yes I know it’s a tomato…” I say defensively.”But Mummy, I don’t eat tomatoes. EVER!” Hm, sound familiar?
I crouch down and hold the offending tomato up at eye level between us. “Look..” I say, in my best persuasive voice. “I know you don’t eat a tomato like THIS. But you really like tomato sauce don’t you?” She nods. “And you like tomato puree because you suck it out of the tube don’t you?” Nods again. “Good. All I am going to do is take a tiny bit of juice out of this tomato, and spread it on your bread with some olive oil because I thought you might like to try the snack that some very grown up big girl Italian children eat. Will you try it please?” She eyes the tomato and transfers the same distrustful gaze to me. “OK then, I’ll try.” she says. Victory. ”But NO pippy seed things, they’re yukky”.
So I carefully cut the tomato and scoop out the seeds before rubbing the flesh onto a piece of bread. A drizzle of olive oil, and it’s ready. The traditional after school snack that generations of Italians were brought up on, until supermarkets started filling aisle upon aisle with cakey things in shiny wrappers, and giant jars of Nutella.
One group of young Italians in Puglia was so utterly affronted by this, they set up a “festival of granny sandwiches”. The aim was to reeducate people about the old fashioned simple recipes. Since the economic crisis they’ve had unprecedented levels of interest from families looking to the traditional more economic way of feeding children. I was lucky enough to be able to go to the festival and write a piece for BBC News Magazine.CLICK HERE TO READ BBC NEWS ARTICLE
However it was one particular interview with a paediatric nutrionist at the festival which sent me on my own personal guilt trip. As we chatted in the balmy evening surrounded by thousands of families, he explained that many busy Italian mums have now got used to feeding kids prepacked cakes and biscuits, or big dollops of chocolate spread on bread. The result he said was that children have lost the taste for savoury stop gaps between meals. When I laughingly admitted that my daughter was rather partial to the chocolate hazelnut stuff on bread, he shook his head reproachfully and went on to tell me how unhealthy it is, giving an elaborate description of the evil fats and sugars. Aghhh! It’s one thing to make a mum feel guilty, and another to make her feel guilty when she’s several hundred miles from home. So I returned to the UK with a steely resolve to make biscuits and chocolates less frequent treats and to introduce some savoury snacks (although I can’t quite give up chocolate buttons for blackmail purposes).
So I guess you might be wondering how the oily tomato bread went down with my little tomato hater? After she used a toy magnifying glass to inspect for stray tomato seeds, she did eat some and went so far as to say it was nice. But that might have been down to the glass of chocolate milk alongside. Small steps and all that!
Ingredients – I don’t need to do I?
Method – If you’re dealing with a tomato-phobe, remove all pips!
And of course I’d love to know your thoughts… xRead More
This dessert is a great way to get fruit into kids. It’s an unusual alternative to banana custard and as long as they’ll try lemon flavour, it’s a real hit. You can use any fruit you like but I’ve found pears, strawberries, mangos, raspberries or blueberries work best. This recipe is inspired by an Italian writer and single mum I met when I was living in Rome. At that time she was writing an Italian cookbook that included a chapter on her friends’ favourite dishes. I feel rather ashamed that when she asked me for a suggestion, I didn’t exactly take it very seriously. Infact, and I can’t believe I’m admitting this, I called my Mum to ask for a recipe I could pass off as my own. My interest in cooking still wasn’t up to much at that point you see.Read More
A little good quality meat, a lot of vegetables, and a zing of fennel that’ll make your family’s tastebuds sit up and take notice. This quick but delicious pasta dish I learned in Sicily is a revelation and I’m really excited to share it with you. Sicilian sausages are often flavoured with fennel, but as I couldn’t find any like these in butchers and supermarkets near me, I added fennel seeds instead whilst cooking and the end result tastes just as good. You can add less if you want to introduce the flavour more gently, but my 3 year old loved the taste and only frowned at a stray spinach stalk that escaped the blender. If you have spinach rebels in the house, then try carrot, courgette or any other veg instead, as long as its softened enough to whizz up. Let me know what you think!Read More
This idea was inspired by an Italian dad I interviewed who once told me he would make a very simple ricotta and Nutella pudding for his kids when left in charge. I’m assuming he’d cook something savoury first, but who knows. At least ricotta has calcium I guess. Anyhow, I remembered this when I began making mince pies today. My daughter reminded me she hates the ‘pippy bits’, by which she means the mincemeat. So I thought I’d experiment by using this Nutella and ricotta mixture in little open tartlets. When baked, the chocolate is light and fluffy with a gently crackled top. These slightly alternative mince pies went down a treat. With everyone. Hope you like them too.Read More
I learned to make this simple cake standing in the kitchen that used to belong to one of Sicily’s most notorious mafia gangsters. I’m sure he’d have been a dab hand at dicing the apple but luckily he’s in a high security prison. His country property has been repossessed and turned into a restaurant and guesthouse. It’s lovely chef saw how much we loved her apple breakfast cake and there it was every morning waiting for us. Soft, plump and packed with juicy bits of apple. She says this was a firm favourite with her three girls when they were little. This is a cake that keeps really well and is also perfect for a tea time treat. I was so determined to recreate it’s aesthetic beauty as well as taste that I brought home a rather lovely silicone ciambellone or ring mould. It’s possible to buy them outside Italy if you want to look on the internet or in kitchen shops. If not then a normal loaf tin is fine too. I don’t mind at all.Read More
This fun no-cook chocolate recipe comes from a headmistress in Naples. She told me it’s a firm favourite at birthday parties. She should know. She has a family herself and has been a teacher for over 3 decades. I did a bit of a double take though when she sent me the recipe and I saw limoncello (lemon liqueur) on the list of ingredients. I called her up to check. “Are you sure about limoncello for kids?” I asked. “You don’t have to use it” she answered, “rum works just as well”.Read More
The Italian sweet breakfast is legendary. Pastries, brioches, biscuits… often filled with cream or nutella. When I lived in Rome I loved breakfast so much, I’d have two. Of course now I’m a responsible parent I’m not suggesting you should feed kids cake for breakfast every day, but now and again why not! This is unbelievably simple to make, and brilliant if you want small people to help out /create extra mess. I’d even say it’s pretty healthy - made with yoghurt and wheatgerm, and olive oil instead of butter. It’s a real treat for a weekend breakfast. Delicious with fresh fruit. Or without. Oh, and there’s no faffing with scales – just use the yoghurt pot. Genius.Read More