“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...Read 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...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...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....Read More
Take one busy journalist mum. Add one shoebox of Italian contacts from two years in Rome. Simmer gently to find the best ideas for feeding bambini.
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
Combining a family holiday with a spot of journalism made for an unusual trip. Of course we enjoyed lazy breakfasts and late lunches overlooking the rugged hills near Corleone. We also went to meet some of my contacts involved in fighting the mafia, and visited businesses formerly owned by notorious gangsters.
You can read the finished article here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15726135
It’s rather different researching a story with a small person in tow. Spontaneous opportunities were sometimes abruptly, even rudely curtailed. I found myself declining an impromptu offer to chat with a local mayor. That crazed hungry stare in my daughter’s eyes meant we were 10 minutes away from meltdown. Sorry Mr Mayor, interesting as you are, you have to come second now.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
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
After 2 years living in Italy, I had to buy an extra case to bring back my very neccessary emergency shoe purchases. I’m returning home after this Sicily trip with rather different accessories. There’s my new silicon cake mould in this season’s scarlet, and a doorstop of Parmesan that’s going to stop the fridge door from closing. There’s also the bag full of rocks, sadly not of the sparkly variety. My daughter insisted that all her friends would like a crumbly black pumice stone from mount Etna’s crater.
Most importantly though, I’m bringing back around 30 fabulous new recipes given to me by the lovely people I revisited around Sicily. Some welcomed us into their kitchens to meet their families and friends and to demonstrate how to recreate the dishes their own children loved and still love. They didn’t mind at all when my daughter wanted to help with the cooking, clapped with delight when she demonstrated her egg breaking skills, and waved away my apologies when she spilt flour all over the floor.Read More
It’s a strange feeling when you’re about to revisit people and places last encountered at a very different point in your life.
This occurred to me as we finally finished squeezing all the toddler paraphernalia into an enormous bag, and squashed cereal bars and colouring books into our hand-luggage. All at the last minute. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed. I’ve never been good at packing in advance.
Whenever I made one of my many trips to Sicily for work it was generally with very little time to pack and prepare; that’s the business of breaking news for you. It meant I always arrived late at the airport trailing a rather suspicious looking case containing my satellite dish for radio broadcasts, an unsightly spaghetti of cables bursting from the pockets. Amazingly that bag was never searched at Italian security and yet I was perpetually late for check in. A last minute purchase of a glossy Chanel lipstick from duty free was of course crucial to hone my reporting skills. This time I’m not sure our trip justifies new posh cosmetics. More likely a packet of chocolate buttons to keep the small person quiet on the plane.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
This recipe is a fabulous combination of pureed potato, eggs, melted cheese and ham under a golden crunchy topping. Italian families I know cook this for big meals with friends as they know it’s a hit with children. It goes brilliantly with grilled or barbecued meats. For kids it’s a meal in itself with some veg and you can freeze leftovers in small portions. I first ate ‘gato di patate’ at a Marzo family barbecue in Viterbo. The lovely Mrs Marzo would take it upon herself to ‘feed me up’ whenever she saw me. As if my life as a restaurant frequenting journalist wasn’t quite nourishing enough. Elasticated waistbands are always essential at Marzo meals. She gets really upset if you don’t leave a clean plate. I don’t mind so much. We don’t have room in our house for dinner guests to lie beached on the floor.
Packed with protein, these ‘poor man’s meatballs’ are a traditional peasant dish from Calabria (the toe of Italy’s boot). When meat was scarce and costly, many families replaced it in recipes like this using fresh ricotta cheese which was cheap and plentiful. The lovely lady from Calabria who ran a tiny grocers shop opposite my flat in Rome was always extolling the virtues of ricotta, as well as telling me off for going out with wet hair and no make up, and asking when I was going to stop travelling around Italy on my own and get married. It’s not easy or cheap to get genuine fresh ricotta in the UK, but that doesn’t matter. Tubs of the supermarket stuff still work brilliantly to create this tasty nutritious dinner for all the family. I’ve also discovered this is a really useful recipe for teething toddlers as it’s incredibly soft to eat. Serve with pasta for an even heartier meal.Read More