“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 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
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
Pieces of delicious green fluffiness. This souffle is a bit like a quiche without the base and is perfect for the whole family. It can be cut into small cubes for younger children and babies who’ve already been introduced to eggs. Today for lunch we all ate it alongside cold meats and salad. It’s also great with a bbq or eaten cold at a picnic.Read More