I recently read an article discussing how a child’s food preferences start to develop in utero as the fetus receives nourishment from the tasty swamp of amniotic fluid, seasoned, sweetened, and/or peppered by his mother’s dietary choices. It is in this vicarious way that babies may become indoctrinated into a culinary culture that worships garlic, curry, pickled herring, or searing chillies; tastes considered the norm on one point of the map and yet acquired on others. So, seeing as though I have spent my entire pregnancy here in Italy and have been lucky to have existed on the wonderful variation, freshness, and inherent simplicity of the Italian diet, I wonder just how my little boy’s tastes will be effected. Maybe this is a far fetched notion, that little *Mario* will eagerly open wide for the airplaning spoonful of mashed steamed artichoke hearts that I have prepared for him, just because there were so many tastes of carciofi in the womb, swimming around with red peppers and delicious broccoli raab torteloni.
My hunch is that it’s a stretch, however that doesn’t mean I can try to get him to like vegetables at an early age. This past 6 months has seen a barrage of articles discussing the children’s menu mentality that Americans so often possess; the cyclical reasoning that lazily allows us to think that we feed our little ones chicken strips and fries because that is what children naturally crave. Obviously it is just a matter of exposure, be it in utero or those first mushy meals, that guides our earliest acceptance of tastes and one thing I have always admired here in Italy is how vegetables never seem villainous. They are in many ways just as cherished as the dolce served at the meal’s end. You will never see as many fresh, colorful, and strangely shaped variations of vegetables as you will find in an Italian vegetable market. And though to the average American, most may seem quite exotic, in truth they are all commonly prepared and appreciated components of the Italian diet, both to young and old (and Italians have one of the longest life expectancies in the world, so it can’t be a bad thing).
As I shop in the mega grocery store down the street from me here in Milan, I frequently browse through the baby-stuffs isle and check out the array of jars lining the shelves, in hope that there will be radicchio puree or mashed artichokes, but to my dismay it seems that there exist the same simple flavors of bananas and peas that dominate in the US. But, I have since been informed that many Italians simply make baby versions at home of whatever they are eating and eschew the store-bought variety altogether. So to close this post, I am sharing an Italian recipe for a baby mush that is sure to give those taste buds a stretch.
Pumpkin and Rice for Baby (Ricordate che i bambini adorano la zucca e questo bel piatto arancione e’ una deliziosa tentazione**.)
1.You cook or steam brown rice
2. You add sprig of rosemary when the rice is 75% cooked
3. You then add small chopped pieces of pumkin (fresh best of course, but not necessary) and stir until the rice is cooked.
4. Before serving to your delighted baby, you sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil and a little parmegiano.
**this is taken directly from the recipe that i translated and reads: “remember that babies adore pumpkin and that this beautiful orange dish is a delicious temptation!”