Today was a real watershed moment in my relationship with three-year-old son Beaumont. About two weeks ago we started bonding while cooking together at a small bed and breakfast on the Puget Sound. I was preparing food for an audition of a big TV show I am praying to get on and Beau was sitting on the counter, mimicking my every move. Each time I added an ingredient he would ask for the same thing then add it to his creation.
Today Beau helped me roll and make Ricotta Cavatelli (think whole milk ricotta gnocchi) that will be served when his wonderful grandparents come over for dinner in a few hours. His small hands diligently rolling short strands of ricotta dough over a reed mat forming the characteristic ridges of cavatelli. After three attempts he started getting the basic shape almost perfect, by the fifth, he was rolling and shaping like an Italian grandmother.
Author Bruce Chatwin had a concept of songlines (a trail of songs), or as he directly put it, ‘the footsteps of our ancestors’ reaching back from today’s modern world back to the genesis of the human experience when we became MAN on the African savannah. Today I felt the apron strings reaching back from son to father, back throughout the rich, heady garlic and basil scented kitchens of my Provencal family back to the beginning when man learned the true nature and purpose of fire… the exact moment that food began. The French call this lineage ‘le feu sacre’, or the sacred fire.
A small child needs to be kept active and busy and Beau is no exception. One moment can be the most amazing tranquil Hallmark moment where he draws upon some ancient wisdom and says something so perfectly beautiful and heartfelt only to be followed by a hate-filled rant exploding into a fiery meltdown. As any parent of a three-year-old boy will tell you, life is lived on eggshells, prayers and lots of alcohol during this period. Beau has been prone to more meltdowns than normal lately with all the changes going on in our world; moving to a new house, in a different state, away from all friends and structure.
Tranquility through cooking has been my attempt at calming the beast. Try picking a dish that has many moments that allow your child to ‘help’. Keeping the attention of a three-year-old longer than three seconds is a daunting task best performed with a strong glass of wine in hand. Here a dish with lots of different tasks to keep even the most ADHD kid in line.
- 16 ounces whole milk ricotta
- 14 ounces 00 flour found in nicer grocery stores and specialty shops
- 5 ounces semolina
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a mixer armed with the paddle attachment and beat until well mixed, about two minutes. Obviously you can do this by hand, it just takes a little longer.
Now here is where you get your child involved. Grab a baseball sized piece of dough and roll into finger thick strands.
Use a spatula, or any other dull edged implement that will safely allow the child to cut the dough into one inch segments without actually risking yourself being stabbed during one of petit Satan's rages that inevitably will come up.
Use a sushi mat or any other surface with ridges to push the dough on to form little cavatellis.
Boil the cavatellis and serve with any pasta sauce you love. If your child is like mine, this dish is a twofer, keeps him entertained while making it and he currently is in his red phase where he only wants red colored food.