Thursday, February 28, 2008

R is for Rocket

Rocket isn’t just a vegetable: it’s a social climber. She can be found appearing under the more exotic names of Roquette and Rucola. In America, she dances under the soubriquet Arugula. Like Eliza in Pygmalion, she has learnt airs and graces. In reality, rocket is nothing special and has been a feature of British cookery since the sixteenth century. There is even a variety, known simply as ‘London Rocket’ that was noticed by botanists flourishing in the ruins after the 1666 Great Fire of London. I suspect that Miss Roquette learned very early on, that to survive, she had to reinvent herself. Nowadays rocket is definitely seen as posh food and with its peppery, zesty flavour, certainly not something that you would give to the children. But after a visit to France, I changed my mind.

We flew to Nantes to see my brother marry his French girlfriend. Now I know that when it comes to valuing and producing good food, France has always occupied the high ground. And watching the way that local delicacies and wines were woven into the day long celebrations, I can see why.
Freddie and Alex were involved in all this ceremony, summoning the guests with drums and banners into a huge circus tent. They sat with other children and enjoyed the same food as the adults. Between the courses the children danced, fought, chased each other, covered themselves in mud and behaved like children anywhere. But when the next course arrived, they returned to their seats and ate well. At midnight a flaming brioche processed through the room and I found Freddie asleep with his head on the table, still holding a spoon next to a plate of half-eaten patisseries.

We stayed in Nantes for the rest of the weekend. La Cigale is a famous brasserie in the centre of the city. They offer a children’s taster menu for only 7.50 Euros. In Britain, most childrens’ meals offer a variation on chips, beans, sausages, and chicken nuggets. The smarter menus appease parents with organic chicken nuggets and sausages. The occasional pasta and pizza option appears with a few vegetables thrown in for good measure. It is as if children require entirely different food to adults. At La Cigale, the ‘Initiation au Gout’ is exactly that. Children are introduced to tastes. They are treated as equals. Freddie and Alex were handed a children’s menu that was entirely grown-up. The dishes were simple versions of what we were eating. Warmed goats’ cheese, smoked salmon and sardines were tasted. They tried a roquette and tomato salad and we ordered six snails. “As long as you don’t think that they are snails, they taste fantastic,” said Freddie.
Alex, who has long since refused childrens’ menus in Britain, was impressed with the French version. The waiters were relaxed and there was nothing stuffy about the restaurant. We were surrounded by French families having Sunday supper. And there
wasn't a chicken nugget in sight...
What is the attitude to children's food where you live? I can't help thinking that in countries or cultures where a two-tier system exists, food for the children and different food for the adults, there must be more fussy eaters...
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The next day we flew home. Freddie had decided in France that he liked the peppery taste of rocket so I made a warm potato and rocket salad. He scored it 9 out of 10.

Warm potato and rocket saladServes 4-5

60g rocket leaves
500g baby new potatoes
200g smoked bacon lardons
1 tsp honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chive

Cook the bacon lardons in a nonstick frying pan until they are beginning to crisp. You shouldn’t need to add any oil to do this – they will cook in their own fat. Boil potatoes for 15-20 minutes, until tender. Drain the potatoes and halve them. Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, honey, mustard in a small jug. Wash and dry the rocket leaves and put them in a large salad bowl. Add the chopped chives, cooked potatoes and lardons. When you are ready to eat, toss the salad with the dressing and serve.


  1. Murasaki Shikibu12:22 PM

    I love Freddie's comment about the snails :)

  2. One of my fave salads. Wedding looked like fun, congrats to your brother.

    Pop over some time, haven't seen you at the Blog in an age. Do you need any rocket recipes?


  3. You know, I think you are right. Kids menu's are not helping us have children who aren't fussy! I can't remember seeing a kids menu that didn't have chicken nuggets, pizza, hot dogs or grilled cheese on it.
    Good for you children for diving right into their French food experience!

  4. Fresh rocket, new potatoes, crispy bacon – of course it got 9 stars!
    The wedding sounded fabulous - what a great image of Freddie asleep spoon in hand - a true gourmand!


    PS the rocket seedlings in my greenhouse will soon be big enough to eat – in fact I nibble some whenever I pass by!

  5. Belle3:46 PM

    In America children's menu's are about the same, chicken nuggets or strips, hamburgers, french fries and maybe some pasta. Or at least they are at all of the corporate restaurants. My son is the same age as Freddie and has finally gotten to the point where he loves new tastes in food. We almost never go to places that have children's menus anymore. We like small family owned ethnic restaurants and we usually share meals or get him an appetizer for a meal. I even am planning on taking him to a expensive 4 star restaurant some time this summer, or for his eighth birthday.

    I recently discovered this blog and read back through all of it. Freddie's progress is absolutely amazing and inspiring.

  6. Belle - Thank you for your encouragement. Yes Freddie has made great progress and it is ongoing as I don't want either of us to slip back into old ways!

  7. Anonymous4:22 PM

    Pesto made with rocket (instead of basil) is also very delicious!

  8. I have come to unhderstand that rockey is arugula here in it's peppery flavour in salads :D 10 out of 10 :D

  9. Anonymous3:04 PM

    This is a truly excellent blog - my almost 5 year old isn't such a great veg eater but I'm hoping that we can make a difference following your Great Veg Challenge blog.

    I found the link on (thanks Annpan!)

    Rocket is one of my favourite salad leaves and we plan to grow more than our goats and chickens can eat!

  10. Oh wow! 9 out of 10! Personally, I am not a rocket fan.

  11. I love rocket. Pret a Manger do a rocket and crayfish sandwich which I get about once or twice a year as a treat. I'll try the salad. I'm actually going to be spending tomorrow working out next week's menus.

    Regarding the sweetcorn roast with allspice and sage, don't add any other seasoning. I tried adding a little salt and black pepper and the result was soapy and unpleasant. The attempt without the extra seasoning was delicious.

    I think Freddie will like marsh samphire if you ever get hold of any. It's pretty much entirely crunch. I only ever had it once as a child and I don't live near London so I am unlikely to see it again.

  12. What a wonderful post. With two very picky eaters in our house (albeit it, very young), I am constantly wondering when they can just start eating what we adults eat, without me having to modify their meals or offer completely "kid friendly" options. I frequently wonder what other people do - including other cultures, where it sometimes seems kids are more adventurous than their American counterparts.

  13. What an inspiring post. It's so hard to sort out the cause and effect when it comes to "children's food." Here in the States it seems like even the foodie-est parents face these challenges...there are apparently good evolutionary reasons for extreme pickiness, at least at the toddler stage, but I have to imagine that (as sadaf suggests) not all tots in the world subsist on chicken nuggets. But it can be hard to get outside one's own food culture and see the alternatives.

    I am really enjoying your blog (this Yankee found it through Figs, Bay, & Wine)! We are just at the start of this journey as my daughter is still an infant, but I'm excited to try some of these recipes with her, hopefully before too long. I've got my eye on those roasted radishes...


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