It occurred to me when trying out this recipe that it would be lovely to have a teenager or two at the table. Just for dinner mind, I would very much like to give them back before they take over my bathroom. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that this is a recipe with a grisly story best served with a dramatic flourish. Along the lines of; “The last time I ate this for dinner was in the house of a mean Sicilian mafia boss who once dissolved a body in acid”. (The unpleasant gangster in question was of course behind bars at the time I visited his home address, a minor detail which I may or may not reveal depending on the reaction of my audience). However I feel that the frisson of this tale is somewhat lost when you’re eating with a 4 year old wearing fairy wings. Instead; “Here’s some yummy chicken with a lovely ham and cheese surprise in the middle” … really not the same is it.Read More
This is a fast food kids favourite suggested by an Italian single mum who lives in Rome. I interviewed her once about the dilemmas facing Italian working mums, including the pressure to spend huge amounts of time in the kitchen. She certainly doesn’t bow to that expectation, hence her speedy crostini, ready in under 15 minutes. All you need are the ingredients for a basic ham and mozzarella sandwich, plus an egg, whack the oven on and you’re laughing. For a more grown-up twist, replace cooked ham with saltier parma ham or some finely chopped anchovy fillets, cut the cooked crostini into small bitesize squares and nibble with a glass of wine, or two depending on how your day has been.Read More
This quick and healthy recipe comes from a school dinner menu in Naples. I once interviewed the headmistress there about the challenges she faced dealing with kids from warring mafia clans. I doubt they sat together eating this stew at lunch time, but I’m told that it’s one of the most popular school meals. I’ve tested and tweaked the recipe, and I have to say that I’m impressed with how soft the meat is, and how sweet the peas are. I’m also big fan of easy dinners that tick both protein and veg boxes, but don’t make a lot of mess, or create a lot of washing up. This is definitely one of those ‘one pan wonders’. Serve with a jacket potato (no more pans needed). Also goes well with a dollop of mash or scoop of brown rice. Do let me know what you think.Read More
This week I emailed a busy Italian journalist and mum I know in Rome and asked her what she cooks her kids when she’s up against it, with hardly any time to think, let alone plan meals, shop and cook. In case you hadn’t guessed, that’s where I’m at now. Too much going on, and too little time to do it in. But enough about me. Her suggestion was simple and nutritious with the bonus of hidden vegetables. I had this frittata on the table in under 15 minutes from when I started making it. Daughter loved it, courgettes and all. Not sure she spotted them under the ketchup to be honest! She certainly wasn’t fooled by the lovely glossy cherry tomatoes you see in my photo. “I don’t eat tomatoes Mummy. Not ever.” So I served her tomato-free frittata along with some potato croquettes I remembered to pop in the oven. Leftover frittata can be eaten cold.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
I love it when I contact someone I interviewed in Italy to ask for recipe inspiration, and they hand me a gem wrapped up in their own family history. This insanely pink salad has been a Christmas tradition for 3 generations in the family of Silvio Berlusconi’s image consultant. Presumably she never suggested that Italy’s flamboyant former Prime Minister should wear a beetroot coloured tie. It may have clashed somewhat with his slightly, er, orange complexion. However this unusual but simple dish is a perfect accompaniment to cold meats such as ham and turkey. It’s really easy to make for a large number of people and is a fantastic quick meal for kids who are of course intrigued by the colour. Pink isn’t just for girls.Read More
This delicious recipe has completely transformed how my family eat the humble ragù. It’s all about using a familiar everyday meal to introduce exciting new flavours. Cinnamon marries the richness of meat and tomato sauce perfectly. It’s subtle, aromatic and not overpowering. I’ve adapted this recipe after interviewing a young chef originally from Rome who now works in a remote hillside restaurant in Sicily. He takes cooking for his young family very seriously. Aside from the fact he’s almost evangelical about cooking proper grown up grub for kids, he claims his wife is a hopeless cook. Of course she wasn’t there to defend this slur on her culinary expertise when we met. But given his passionate approach to feeding their child she may well have forgiven him this slander.
The key to this ragù is in the preparation of the meat before you cook it. I’ve found that it’s almost easier to prepare the night before and leave in the fridge so the flavours properly infuse. Then you’re ready to hit the ground running when cooking the next day. I know I usually adapt most recipes on my blog so they’re super quick, but I’m sorry to break it to you that I really can’t do the same with this one. I’ve done a taste test after 30 minutes cooking, after an hour and after 2 hours. And there’s no doubt. It really is a case of the longer the better. But it’s no hassle I promise. Just leave it cooking over low heat and get on with other stuff around the house. This ragù will simmer away quietly for hours needing absolutely zero attention. How many members of your family can you say that about?Read More
This is uncomplicated comfort food from the woman who has been Silvio Berlusconi’s image consultant for the past 20 years and is now between jobs. I first met her in Rome several years ago when she described how she has been instrumental in everything from the choice of his suits, to the presentation of his speeches. Presumably he didn’t always follow her advice and latterly her job became a rather stressful whirlwind of damage limitation. She told me that she often arrived home from the office exhausted with little time to cook but enjoyed the nostalgic ritual of making a bowl of this parmesan semolina. There’s no spin involved here, unless you count gentle stirring. It’s a simple recipe that her grandmother and mother cooked for her as a child. And when she makes it for her 4 year old niece she loves it just like this. In a bowl, with a spoon. This recipe is very versatile and can be frozen in little portions. It’s great for babies under a year (without the egg of course). For older children and adults it makes a delicious filling for a baked potato or a more sustaining alternative to traditional cheese sauce on cauliflower or broccoli.Read More
You might look at this picture, and think “where are the meatballs”? They’re there. I promise. More like little mini flat burgers just peeping out from between 2 thin courgette slices. The original recipe involves cooking the meat sandwiched between two glossy lemon leaves, leaving it infused with a delicate fresh taste of citrus. The lovely family who showed me exactly how to make this dish live in the fertile foothills of Mount Etna. They just pop out of their back door to gather the lemon leaves from their own trees. Something I definitely can’t recreate at home, unless you’d like me to try it with some rather unappetising yellow leaves from my fig tree, or a brown curled up fern? Thought not.
After several attempts I found that thin slices of courgette sprinkled with lemon zest are the best alternative. It really works, even if it’s a bit less attractive. The meat inside is still lemony and very soft. It’s easy for small people to chew, a great way to introduce new flavours, and it also makes an original lunch or supper for the whole family.
“But my kids don’t like courgette” might be your next thought. Don’t worry, it’s mainly there to hold the lemon flavour and to help recreate the fun of discovering the meatball hiding between two leaves. My daughter calls these ‘hide and seek meatballs’. She likes uncovering the meat, and then of course neatly discarding the courgette on the side of the plate. Of course, bravo to you if your children do snaffle up courgettes with gusto. You won’t need to cook extra vegetables like I do!Read More
When autumn embraces Italy, ladies of a certain age don their fur coats in temperatures that still invite tourists to wear shorts and sandals. The change of season also welcomes this delicious pasta dish to many school dinner menus. It makes the most of the abundance of squashes and pumpkins. This recipe was given to me by a head teacher I know in Naples. She says the sweet buttery taste goes down a treat with most kids. It also makes sure they get a good dose of veggies. In my house this recipe is a big hit for an easy supper as it only uses one pan to cook the lot. We stir some chilli oil into the adults portions to add a kick that contrasts nicely with the sweetness.Read More