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
“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 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 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
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
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
Chicken, ham, omelette and herbs. Simple ingredients, presented in an original way. This recipe comes from a man I once interviewed in the mafia heartlands of Sicily who knows a thing or two about presentation. The state handed him charge of an isolated and unremarkable farmhouse whose gangster owner had been jailed. He then turned it into a holiday home, attracting tourists craving a frisson of excitement from eating their dinner in the kitchen of a mafia boss.Read More
What’s not to love about cool pink sandwiches for a dessert or snack? The icy crunch of chilled watermelon combined with silky sweet ricotta. Irresistable. This embarrasingly simple idea makes a healthy change from endless lollies and ice-cream. Little people love helping cut the shapes out and bigger people might also like to try these with a slice or two of parma ham, and a nice glass of chilled white wine.Read More