Italy is well-known for its overall obsession with food and certain rituals are taken on from a very young age. A typical example of these long-standing traditions is the merenda, which comes from the Latin expression “things you have to deserve”, a light mid-afternoon snack. Each region does it differently, but one thing’s certain: Tuscany has a lot of kid-friendly food, with fun and healthy variety packed in the everyday menu!
The main ingredients are simple and sum up some of Tuscany’s most beloved products: bread, extra virgin olive oil and, yes, wine! Younglings are always welcome at Dievole, where they can play immersed in nature, run through the vineyards and experience an authentic Tuscan way of life, food included. Let’s look at some of the traditional snacks eaten by children in Tuscany – who knows, you might even try making them at home!
Tuscan kid-friendly food
A simple slice of toasted bread covered with fragrant evoo is enough to send children scurrying up the walls in a mouthwatering frenzy. Fettunta or panunto (which translated means “greasy slice”) is easy to make and flavor-packed, a healthy and nutritious snack for your little ones. Place a thick slice of slightly stale Tuscan bread on the grill (or in the oven) for a couple of minutes. When crisp, rub garlic on the surface and drizzle with a nice dose of extra virgin olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste and serve warm. The origins of this Tuscan recipe are tightly linked to the Olive Oil season, as unsalted bread was used to make the tasting experience more pleasant and filling and did not taint the authentic taste of the freshly pressed juice.
Frega al Pomodoro
A poor man’s dish can sometimes be a young child’s delight! Mostly widespread along the Tuscan coast, this common appetizer is similar to its Roman cousin the “bruschetta”and involves rubbing (the Italian verb “fregare” also means “to rub”) a ripe tomato on both sides of the bread’s surface in order to slightly soak the bread’s coarse warm crust. The tomato has to be of the round and smooth kind and experts suggest not to throw away the tasty leftover peels: use them as a topping on the bread together with a dash of salt, pepper, a leaf of basil for extra-freshness and, naturally, a hearty dose of extra virgin olive oil. If you want to make things even tastier for your little one, add a coursely cut slice of Tuscan prosciutto or a nice morsel of mozzarella.
Bread, sugar and red wine
Now this is a real Tuscan treat. Hailing from the Maremman countryside, this traditional sweet snack is bound to keep the kids at bay. While rich children could enjoy fresh fruit every day, the working class had to come up with new stimulating ideas to entice their youngster’s tastebuds. So slices of hardened bread were dunked into vintage red wine and abundantly sprinkled with white sugar. Some recipes also include soft ricotta cheese to further temper the tangy mix. Although nowadays some find this recipe unfit for children, in the past numerous doctors sustained that this daily dose of alcohol for the young ones was bound to prevent the development of serious drinking problems.
Bread, butter and anchovies
For children with stronger palates, this is the perfect flavorful mix. The dense roundness of butter envelopes the salty and pungent flavors of the brine-tinged fish, while the bread cradles the ingredients and satisfies the bite. Some add capers for some extra pizzazz. No cooking is involved and in the old days this snack was particularly popular among farmers and labourers because of its energy-boosting properties. If you have a long day ahead and your kid’s stamina is dwindling, offer him a simple plate of “Pane, burro e alici”.
Poached pears in spiced red wine
Sweet, juicy and packed with spices, this warm winter snack takes time to prepare but is utterly delicious. Pour a bottle of red wine in a large saucepan and add vanilla, cinnamon, fresh thyme and sugar. Make sure that the peeled pears are covered by the mix and poach for 20-30 minutes (the cooking time depends on the ripeness of the pears, check frequently!). Take the pears from the pan, boil the remaining liquid until syrupy and use as topping for the final dish. Some add fiordilatte (similar to vanilla) ice-cream and serve it as a dessert after meals.