Healthy Gourmet: a mother's table influence
Eating habits develop in our youth and our parents' relationship with food influences us more than what they preach.
When I was a kid I did not like fish and vegetables. I went to a Catholic school run by nuns where discipline was strict. Some evenings, at home, my mother would find in the pocket of my uniform the classic Italian panino, with a hole in the top, filled with a mixture of what I did not want to eat but was forced to.
"I never pushed you to eat fish nor vegetables," says my mum, Liliana - although she hid vegetables in the dishes I liked.
Restrictions and pressure on children do not work and generate an exaggerated focus on food, making it a means to assert independence, preclude self-regulation, and - when the parents aren't around - encourage the child to eat what is forbidden.
My eating habits have not been admirable for my entire life and during my years as a management consultant, I stopped exercising and enjoyed way too many client dinners and business class meals. I became overweight. But I always had in mind my mother's attitude towards well-being, and eventually I took action to regain my health.
My mother's focus has always been to use food, not necessarily to lose weight, but to improve health. She was into organic and wholegrain before they were trendy. Food was the medicine she used to delay the kidney failure that is hereditary in my family. Despite years of dialysis and a kidney transplant, today she looks young and full of energy - because of the way she eats.
Back in the 1970s and '80s, there was limited knowledge of nutrition. My mother has never been an uncompromising follower of any healthy diet. She ate real food (meaning non-industrial) that she and my dad cooked at home.
"For many years, I chose for our family a cuisine with a lot of variety and vegetables," says my mum. "Pasta has always been part of our table, but often accompanied by vegetables. Sunday was the exception: ragout lasagne, cannelloni, roasts and dessert."
"When you were coming of age," she tells me, "my consciousness about the relationship between food and well-being grew. Meat declined drastically and, although it was not part of the family tradition, we began eating fish. I also started focusing on organic food.
"I bought wholegrain flours rather than refined. At first, you did not like my bread, but with time you got used to the new flavours."
The substitution of ingredients in recipes has always been a part of mum's cooking style. Reducing sugar was hard for our family as we all have a sweet tooth, but she experimented with alternative sweeteners and made desserts with lots of dried and fresh fruits.
Looking back at my youth, I found 10 lessons she practised that formed the way I eat now.
1. Food is about healthiness, rather than weight.
2. Make your own meals.
3. Parents lead by example.
4. Restriction and pressure don't work.
5. Serve small portions at home to avoid forming the habit of eating beyond hunger.
6. The home meal is a sanctuary. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners should not be skipped, interrupted by phone calls or eaten in front of the television.
7. Make it easier to eat healthier. There was no junk food at home, and peeled fruit was often available.
8. Eating healthily is not a religion with strict dogmas. Focusing on making your favourite dish healthier, one ingredient at a time, is more important than sourcing the latest superfood.
9. Make vegetables interesting.
10. Sports and outdoor activities are fundamental and also influence what we eat.
Crespelle with radicchio and parmesan cheese
250 grams buckwheat flour
1 tsp salt
500 grams radicchio
100 grams grated parmesan cheese
- Mix the flour, water and salt a little at a time until smooth.
- Let the mixture rest for 30 minutes, covered with cling film.
- Heat up a 12cm pan. Add a drop of oil and pour a ladle of the mixture in it.
- Rotate the pan so a uniform thin layer of mixture is formed.
- When it starts to brown, flip to brown the other side.
- Set the crespelle aside and repeat one ladle at a time.
- Stir-fry the radicchio over a high heat until it becomes soft.
- Fill each crespelle with some grated parmesan and radicchio.
- Fold the crespelle in half and put it in a pan over a medium heat until the cheese melts.
Healthy Gourmet is a weekly column by private chef Andrea Oschetti. cuoreprivatechef.com