I have watched the two young daughters of our friends in Italy grow up from tots and have eaten with the family often. I have never seen those kids eat anything different to what everyone else is eating. The over-solicitous catering by some parents for what they think their children will eat is wearisome for all concerned. The sooner you teach them to eat what everyone else is eating, the better, so start your kids early. It seems to work for Italians, and anyone used to a traditional cuisine. It also worked for our kids. If they didn’t want to eat the food, fine, we didn’t make them, but there wasn’t anything else. This can be spooky, as parents are hard-wired to be worried if their kids won’t eat. So long as there is good food available, you can simply get over any doubts. In fact the best diet is one which is made up of additive-free food (that takes care of quality), the biggest variety of food available (that takes care of nutrition), moderation, plenty of exercise, and treating food as daily enjoyment and a means to socialise. Getting the kids to cook is also good training in how to look after themselves and others. When asked to come up with ideas for kids to cook I stayed right away from anything to be found on those so-called kids’ restaurant menus or trying to dumb down food, and concentrated on easy food the whole family can enjoy. Parents, lend a hand where necessary and don’t worry about the mess (something I have had to learn).
Make a tomato sauce by slow frying a large red onion, dried oregano, a pinch of chilli flakes, finely diced salami and chopped garlic in extra virgin olive oil until the onion is soft, adding a can of crushed tomatoes in juice and simmering until thick and chutney-like. Taste and season. Steam mussels open in a separate saucepan with a little white wine, cool, pull the mussels from the shells, pull out the brown tongue and its white root from each mussel and replace each on a half shell. Put a spoonful of sauce on top of each and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Place side by side on a heatproof tray and place under a very hot preheated grill until browned and bubbly. Serve with steamed rice and a green salad.
Place pork chops side by side in a baking paper-lined shallow oven tray. Season, sprinkle with several crushed garlic cloves, a big sprig of rosemary and extra virgin olive oil. Place in the oven at 200C for 30 minutes or until the fat has crisped. Serve with apple sauce made by peeling and slicing 4 apples and simmering with a tablespoon of sugar in a little water until soft. Make colcannon, mashed floury potatoes mixed with sliced spring onions, butter, cream and pre-steamed savoy cabbage (it’s great!) and serve it with the chops and apples.
Gussy up a frittata by slow frying, without browning, lots of thinly sliced leeks, diced additive-free bacon, garlic, chopped parsley and the zest of a lemon in extra virgin olive oil over moderate heat until the leeks are soft. Slice plenty of shelled raw prawns 2cm thick and add to the onion mix. Mix well and remove to a bowl. Cool, then add to 8 beaten eggs and 1½ cups cold, 3cm-chunked boiled potatoes. Mix well and season. Clean the frying pan. Heat oven to 200C. Heat 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over moderate heat. Pour in the mix and fry until you see bubbles emerging from the perimeter. Bake for 30 minutes or until cooked in the middle, puffed and golden. Serve the frittata in wedges, with salad and spicy chutney.
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Mix beef mince with finely chopped garlic, red-wine soaked breadcrumbs, diced bacon and chopped parsley in a mixing bowl. Season, form into burger patties about 1.5cm thick and pan-fry or barbecue until cooked through. Pan-fry or barbecue extra virgin olive oil brushed, seasoned large Portobello mushrooms (1 per burger) and blanched sweet stem broccoli until well browned. Stuff into toasted buns spread with mayo, mixed with a little hot chilli sauce. Add lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes and coriander sprigs.
Make hot-smoked salmon rolls — for each one, briefly dip a Vietnamese rice paper in warm water until just flexible, drain. At one end place a little boned, skinned hot-smoked salmon, boiled glass noodles, grated carrot, mint and basil leaves and coriander sprigs. Roll the end over the filling, fold the sides in and roll up. Place side by side on a plate and cover with a damp cloth. Make a dipping sauce from half lime juice, half fish sauce, 2 tablespoons water, plenty of sugar to sweeten and sliced chilli. Great first course.
Scrub large agria potatoes and place them side by side on a dry ovenproof tray in a 200C oven for 1 hour or until soft. Slice the top of each potato open lengthways and push on either side so the inside of the potato is forced out a little. Put a dollop of sour cream on top of each, top with a dash of hot chilli sauce, chopped chives, coriander and spring onions and serve with plenty of fried bacon and a salad.
Make meatballs by mixing together a beaten egg white with 500g minced pork, 1 tablespoon each finely chopped ginger and garlic, and chopped coriander. Form into walnut-sized balls. Fry in vegetable oil until browned, remove to a plate. Add sliced button mushrooms and broccoli florets to the wok or pan and stir-fry 4 minutes. Add meatballs, toss with hot Chinese noodles. Serve with coriander sprigs, sliced spring onion, soy sauce and sweet chilli sauce.
Scrub some purple-skinned kumara and place side by side in an ovenproof dish. Place in the oven at 200C for 1 hour or until tender. Remove from the oven and slice in half lengthways. Place on a serving platter. Fry plenty of diced bacon in plenty of extra virgin olive oil, and when crisp, remove from the heat and sprinkle over the kumara. Carefully add 2-3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar to the hot pan then pour the contents over the kumara as well. Sprinkle with crumbled feta and coriander or parsley and serve.
Toss lamb loin chops with extra virgin olive oil, dried oregano and crushed garlic. Barbecue or pan-fry over high heat for about 4 minutes each side. Serve with drained mashed seasoned boiled peas which have been mixed with the finely diced peel of ½ preserved lemon, finely chopped garlic, butter and chopped mint. Serve with a bowl of plain unsweetened yoghurt mixed with a little tahini, lemon juice and salt.
For a sweet ending make a rice pudding — place ¼ cup short grain rice, 500ml milk, 4 tablespoons sugar, a small cinnamon stick and the zest of a lemon in a small ovenproof dish. Place in the oven for 2 hours at 150C, stirring occasionally until thick. Serve the hot rice pudding with scoops of hokey pokey icecream and whipped cream.