The highest compliment for my cooking is when a mom tells me that her picky eaters devoured a dinner that I catered for her family. While I firmly believe that food shouldn’t be “dumbed down” for kids, I’ve admittedly achieved varying degrees of success with my own children on the food front. My oldest son is a self-proclaimed “foodie.” He has delighted waiters in various countries with his adventurous menu choices and willingness to try just about anything. In Venice, a jovial restaurant owner summoned his entire staff to our table to watch in awe as my son slurped up “tagliolini al nero di seppia” – pasta in a very black, very pungent squid ink sauce.
On the other hand, my middle son is generally suspicious of new foods and automatically inclined to say, “I don’t like it.” However, I can typically bribe him with the promise of an after-dinner treat and though perhaps a questionable approach, it has effectively expanded his food repertoire. Last summer, when a plate of “lumache di mare” (sea snails!) arrived at our table at a seaside restaurant in Abruzzo, he spent 15 minutes removing the briny bodies from their tiny shells with toothpicks and popped them in his mouth. (I wonder whether he liked the game more than the actual food, but I marked it in the victory column nonetheless).
My youngest son is my pickiest eater yet and no amount of bribery will convince him to try even the most non-threatening staples. Oddly enough, however, his two favorite dishes are spaghetti with clams and lentil soup so I’m hopeful that, over time, I’ll figure out a way to lure him over to my side.
A dish everyone agrees on in my home is Polpette alla Fiorentina — a different type of meatball adapted from an old Florentine recipe that includes potatoes in the mixture.
Polpette alla Fiorentina
From Majella Home Cooking (Serves 4)
For polpette mixture:
1 lb lean ground beef
2 medium potatoes (I use Yukon gold but I think russet would also work fine)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 eggs lightly beaten
1/2 cup day-old bread, torn into cubes and crusts removed, soaked with enough milk to just cover it (allow to sit for 10 minutes or so)
1/2 cup grated cheese (I use Parmigiano-Reggiano)
Salt and pepper
For dredging: 1 cup fine unseasoned breadcrumbs
For pan-frying: 2-3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
For serving: Lemon wedges
Place potatoes (skins on) in a pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce flame to a steady simmer and allow them to cook until you can easily pierce the potatoes with a fork. Drain the potatoes well and allow them to cool off enough so that you can touch them without burning your fingers. Remove the skins and rice the potatoes with a potato ricer, food mill or potato masher. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands until just incorporated. Form the mixture into 2-inch patties and lightly dredge in the breadcrumbs. Add olive oil to a skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the patties and fry for 4 minutes on each side and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Keep warm in a low oven until ready to serve. Serve with lemon wedges (the acid cuts the richness of the meat quite beautifully). Buon appetito!