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mangia! italian herbs and spices for baby
Ah, the Amalfi coast. Positano. Sorrento. Sunshine. Long walks, hand-in-hand, through lemon and olive groves, boat rides through blue grottos, lots of wine.
Can I keep writing about our Italian honeymoon all those years ago? My husband and I had such a magical time there, relaxing and eating our way through the Amalfi coast. One of my fondest memories of the food there were the tomatoes. Sun-ripened, red, rich-tasting tomatoes. It was as if I were eating a tomato for the first time! Full of flavor, so unlike the grocery store varieties here in the States. My other memory? Herbs, of all kinds, growing in gardens, growing wild on the hilly terrain near our hotel. These herbs found their way into every meal we ate there, be it a rosemary scented prosciutto or basil-infused sauce.
I want both of my babies (Kirina, age 3½ and Ela, age 1) to experience the flavors of the world, just as my husband and I have been able to do. Italian (whether it is true Italian or Italian-American) cuisine is a great cuisine to start with.
Italians cook with what I call “baby-friendly” herbs and spices. “Baby-friendly” because many of their seasonings are mild in taste. That is not to say they are not flavorful, which of course they are, but they are more accessible to little taste buds still trying to acclimate to new flavors. Italian herbs and spices, including, oregano, parsley rosemary, sage, and fennel, to name a few, are great seasonings to introduce your baby to early on. And garlic! A little bit goes a long way, but it’s a wonderful flavor to try with your baby.
Some ideas? Try these delectable combinations:
Carrot purée with basil or basil pesto
Pork purée with rosemary
Potato mash with lemon and parsley
Simple tomato sauce with basil, oregano and/or garlic
Pasta with sage butter sauce
Peach purée with basil
It’s easy to take your baby’s taste buds on an Italian journey. Always remember to start slow, trying a simple pinch of a given herb or spice in whatever dish you are serving. Over time you can add more and add additional seasonings, slowly getting baby used to the full-flavored, adult version.
One of my children’s favorite Italian recipes is something commonly served to babies in Italy when they are first starting solids. It is a type of pasta called pastina. Pastina is a tiny, “itty bitty” pasta (as my daughter calls it), sometimes in the shape of stars. It is the smallest type of pasta available and when cooked it becomes a creamy, easily digestible bowl of supper for babies and kids alike. You can prepare it simply, with a little butter and parmesan, add soft vegetables, or even a fresh egg stirred into the mixture (which creates a creamy, protein-rich, custardy yumminess). Stirring in a fresh basil leaf is also a nice way to scent the dish. Give this recipe a try today. Buon appetito!
Creamy Pastina for Baby
1 cup water or organic vegetable or chicken broth
2-3 tablespoons pastina
Butter and parmesan to taste
Fresh egg yolk (optional, for babies over 9 months)
Fresh basil, optional
1. Boil pasta according to package direction in water or broth, if using.
2. If using egg: Toward end of cooking time stir in egg yolk. Stir with spoon until yolk is fully cooked, about a minute. You can tell the egg is cooked when you see solid curds and the pasta/egg mixture come together to form a custard-like consistency.
3. Season with butter and parmesan. Serve warm.