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Pesto sauce

While it’s one of my favourite pasta sauces, I hadn’t yet made pesto for Nicholas. I generally have it out of a jar, but I’m still rather anal about giving Nicholas ready-made food of any description, so I needed to make it from scratch.

It’s really not that difficult (it’s just blending the ingredients) and by making it, you can adjust the amount of cheese, the amount of oil and so on to your munchkin’s and your taste.

pesto sauce

Traditionally you should use a mortar and pestle to gently crush and mix the ingredients together, not rip the delicate basil leaves apart with the sharp metallic blades of a food processor. I use a mini food processor (don’t tell anyone).

I’ve read tips including to use a plastic blade in your food processor, and putting the bowl and blade in the fridge beforehand to cool down (you don’t want the blades to be heating up the sauce as you’re making it). The only tip I do follow is to blend on a slow speed and to use the pulse button rather than let the blades continuously spin (again it’s trying to avoid heating up the sauce).

Many traditional Italian recipes for pesto use some grated pecorino as well as parmesan. If I was making this just for adults, I’d substitute 2 tablespoons of the parmesan with pecorino, but as pecorino is a much saltier cheese, I’ve left it out altogether. I also haven’t used any salt in this child-friendly version; you could add a pinch with the garlic if you wanted.

PESTO SAUCE

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 0 mins
Makes 4 adult servings
Keeps in the fridge for a couple of days (cover with a layer of olive oil)

1 clove of garlic
50g fresh basil leaves, washed and completely dry
1 tbsp pine nuts
6 tbsp grated parmesan
100ml extra virgin olive oil

In a small food processor, blend the clove of garlic until it’s creamy.

Add the basil leaves and process until the leaves are fairly evenly broken up.

Add the pine nuts then the parmesan, 1 spoonful at a time.

Slowly pour in the oil and blend until completely combined and creamy.

Variations:

  • walnuts are a traditional substitute for pine nuts, but you do need to skin them otherwise the sauce will be very bitter
  • substitute 2 tablespoons of the parmesan with grated pecorino if serving to adults

Other uses:

  • serve over a baked potato
  • use as a dip for vegetables

Seeing the pesto-covered farfalle pasta has given me an idea for another Christmas-inspired cute lunch, but you’re going to have to wait till tomorrow to see that!

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Penne with courgettes and balsamic vinegar (adult recipe)

As promised, this is the original cold pasta recipe I adapted for my toddler-friendly herby courgette pasta salad. I don’t want to be repetitive, but it really is a great summer meal, and I love how it can be made the day before. It’s great in lunch boxes, on picnics or as an easy weekend meal. I’ve made it countless times and will make it many more times!

I’ve made very few changes to the original recipe by Ann and Franco Taruschio. I increased the eggs (each person only gets 3 small wedges in the original) and eliminated putting ice in the pasta immediately after you drain it to stop it from cooking (I don’t think you need to do it).

If you make it ahead of time, take it out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to eat it so it can start to come to room temperature and taste better.

PENNE WITH COURGETTES AND BALSAMIC VINEGAR

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 20 mins
Serves 4
Keeps in the fridge for a day

300g courgettes, cut in half lengthways, sliced fairly thickly
4 tbsp olive oil
1-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh basil, shredded
2 fresh mint sprigs, chopped, plus few leaves to garnish
3 eggs
250g penne
100g feta cheese, diced

Cook penne and drain it well (you can spread it out on tea towel to dry it if you want). Put pasta in a large bowl and dress with the remaining olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar.

Lower eggs into boiling water and cook for 10 minutes when water returns to the boil. Plunge into cold water and peel before cutting each into 6 wedges.

While pasta and eggs are cooking, heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan and add courgettes. Season and stir fry for a few minutes. Remove from heat, splash with about 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar, and add basil and mint. Leave to cool.

Add courgettes to the pasta, scatter over feta and mix. Garnish with the egg and the extra mint leaves. Serve cold.

Do you have any yummy cold pasta recipes to share?

Herby courgette pasta salad with feta and egg

I don’t want to overly bombard you with my apple sauce experiments, so it’s back to good old trusty pasta today.

I love the Sainsbury’s Little One’s site when they do recipes three-ways: for babies, for toddlers and for adults. For example for their creamy spinach and leek pancake bake (must try this) the filling is pureed for a baby, a toddler eats the recipe as is,Ā  and adults get a surprise of smoky ham inside. These recipes give me a renewed enthusiasm for cooking for Nicholas when my enthusiasm is lagging. They encourage me to experiment with my tried and tested recipes, working out more toddler-friendly versions of them. While I love making dishes everyone can eat, I really do love making meals just for Nicholas.

One of my ‘go to’ summer recipes is a cold pasta recipe I came across in The Times probably more than ten years ago. It’s an Ann and Franco Taruschio invention and I believe it’s in their 100 Great Pasta Dishes book (but don’t quote me on that). It’s a wonderfully fresh and filling dish, perfect to make the day before, perfect to take to work for lunch, and perfect to take on picnics or to have as a vegetarian option at a barbecue. I’ve made it a couple of times for my Italian in-laws and they love it (always a good sign!). I’ll write up that recipe tomorrow, but for now, here’s my toddler-friendly version of it.

I grated the courgette/zucchini to cut down the preperation time. However, next time I’ll dice it, as grated it sticks to itself and is difficult to separate, and Nicholas tends to pull large pieces of it from his mouth.

The original recipe uses penne and it really does need a short tube-shaped pasta. I used tubetti rigati which are like mini penne. You could also use macaroni or cut penne into shorter tubes after it’s cooked.

You can cook the egg and pasta in the same water, you just need to make a calculation based on the cooking time needed for the pasta you’re using. My tubetti rigati take 11 minutes to cook, so one minute after I put them into the boiling water I added the egg, cooking them together for 10 minutes before draining everything.

HERBY COURGETTE PASTA SALAD WITH FETA AND EGG

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Makes 2 large toddler servings
Keeps for a day in the fridge

100g courgette / zucchini, finely grated
2 medium basil leaves, finely shredded
2 medium mint leaves, finely shredded
1 egg
50g tubetti rigati (or other small tubed pasta)
100g feta cheese
Drizzle of olive oil
Pinch of salt (optional)

Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil and gently lower the egg into it. Boil for 10 minutes. Plunge into cold water, peel and cut into 6 wedges. Cut each wedge in half.

Cook the pasta as directed on the packet. Drain and add a drizzle of olive oil to stop the pasta from sticking to itself. Put in a medium-sized bowl and cool in the fridge.

Squeeze the excess moisture from the grated courgette. In a small non-stick frying pan, cook the courgette for a couple of minutes over a medium heat. Take off the heat and stir in the basil and mint.

Add the herby courgette to the pasta. Mix in the feta and egg. Serve cold.

Variations:

  • chop the courgette into small cubes rather than grate it
  • add a splash of balsamic vinegar at the end

Super quick avocado pasta sauce

Another fast pasta sauce you can whip up really quickly for your little one. The creamy texture of avocado lends itself perfectly to coat pasta, and not just for babies. Add some more seasoning and a dash of chilli sauce and it’s a yummy dish for you.

I use a mini food processor to blend the avocado, simply to get a bit more creaminess by making it super smooth. However, whizzing up such a small amount can be a bit annoying (you have to keep scraping down the sides of the bowl to get the mixture back under the blades). You can mash the avocado up by hand and either use a bit of muscle to mash it up to a paste or leave the sauce a bit chunkier. The chunks anyway will be soft enough even for babies to easily munch through.

We incorporated some sensory play into our meal. Long cooked pasta like spaghetti isn’t just yummy, but also so much fun to play with!

SUPER QUICK AVOCADO PASTA SAUCE

Prep time: 5-10 mins
Cook time: 0 mins šŸ™‚
Makes 1 toddler serving

1/2 avocado
1 large (or 2 medium) basil leaf, roughly chopped
Squeeze of lime (or lemon)

Scoop the flesh of the avocado into a mini food processor. Add the basil and lime. Blend until smooth.

Spoon over cooked pasta and mix to evenly coat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Variations:

  • to make it even faster, omit the basil and lime
  • use coriander instead of basil
  • for adults add more seasoning and a dash of chilli sauce

Other uses:

  • spread on toast
  • use as a crepe filling
  • spoon over cooked chicken

 

Creamy mushroom pasta sauce

Pasta. What child doesn’t love pasta? My Italian husband’s very happy that Nicholas absolutely adores pasta. And the amount of pasta Nicholas can eat in one sitting constantly amazes me. Lunch after his swimming class at the weekend was a chunk of lasagne at Carluccio’s, from their lovely children’s menu. A chunk of lasagne that looked like an adult’s portion. He didn’t eat all of it, but almost all of it!

While this isn’t a pasta sauce you’d make several servings of and freeze, you can whip it up very quickly in the microwave while the pasta is cooking.

CREAMY MUSHROOM PASTA SAUCE

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 5 mins
Makes 1 serving

6 closed cup mushrooms
2 tbsp water
1 large basil leaf, finely chopped
1 tbsp plain yogurt

Chop the mushrooms into cubes about 0.5cm. Put them in a small microwave-safe bowl with the water and cook on medium for 5 mins.

Stir in the basil and yogurt until combined.

Serve over pasta.

Variations:

  • add a small squeeze of lemon juice
  • use fresh parsley instead of basil

Other uses:

  • eat with rice
  • use as a crepe filling for toddlers and adults