Daily Dose Negotiation, Italian Style
15 Janurary 2011
Podere Conti/Pontremoli, Italy
Relishing at all the differences while traveling is, no doubt, a full-time job, and loads of fun. But it’s even more amusing to see the universal similarities in people. Italian children are no exception. Watching these four Conti boys has me in stitches, since I am the American guest who brought such wonderful gifts as four whoopee cushions and a bag of punch balls from across the pond. Yesterday at breakfast, I was singled out for a well-rehearsed concert, featuring “The Adams Family Started When Uncle Fester Farted…” complete with a fart-tone baseline using the new “instruments.” A lack of enthusiasm for vegetables is another universal trait, as is that of their parents’ endless mealtime negotiation.
Enter cheese, the miracle nanny.
Last night, four somber faces approached the dinner table begrudgingly, for a large pot of minestrone soup awaited, and none was interested. Signora Conti had the quick-fix: a blending tool to make a puree before their very eyes, a pint of heavy cream, and a platter of grated Dutch Edammer (Edam.) Each boy was confronted with a dish of now-pea-coloured puree and was then able to add in his own cream and grated cheese, then stir to his own decadent liking. I had set aside my own portion of chunky, country-style minestrone, with designs on shaving off some of the gorgeous Parmigiano hunk I’d been eyeing all evening. But then I figured we are close enough to Rome, so I must do as this group of near-Romans do. So I served myself a nice bowl of puree and dove into the cheese pile, stirring it in consistently, and then added cream. It was delicious, and none of the kids nor I could refuse a second bowl.
Lunch today was another clever masking of the daily dose of vegetables. The baked fresh trout from the local lake, stuffed with herbs and cooked with potatoes, olives, and tomatoes was of no interest to the children, once again. However, cauliflower al formaggio was enough to set the house on fire with four little firecrackers jumping up and down to be served first. The dish, in detail, was cauliflower in a casserole, baked with béchamel (very common at the grocery here, but just as easily made from scratch) and grated Edam. The bountiful oven-browned casserole garnered seconds and even thirds, and I could see why. I am no stranger to vegetables, often nibbling on them raw in lieu of a meal at home, but this dish was a meal in itself, and a dreamy, creamy one at that, especially accented by a dash of nutmeg for punctuation. They were so happy, they filed into the kitchen to clean their own plates in a hurry and get back to the punch balls and farty toys. No further negotiation, your honor.
Cheese is essential, in any language. Ask any kid and he will agree, in his native tongue or in yours. From where they got the Adams Family lyrics in English, I have no idea.