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Savoury courgette and pine nut muffins

I’ve found muffins are a great way to get some extra vegetables into Nicholas’ diet. He can help me make them (which usually results in him eating more of them), they’re an easy-to-eat finger food (and very easy to pop into a lunchbox) and so wonderfully adaptable (you can pretty much throw in anything you have in the fridge!).

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s courgette and pine nut muffins intrigued me when I came across them. He makes the point that these flavour combinations work well in a pasta dish and also work in a muffin, which makes my mind wander to other pasta flavours to experiment with in a muffin form. I was also curious to discover if the addition of some oats was noticeable in the end muffin (no, although I used normal-sized porridge oats rather than his suggested jumbo oats).

Amazingly for me I didn’t make any changes to Hugh’s original recipe. After tasting them I did wonder about leaving the sultanas out next time, but they do add a lovely burst of sweetness to the other savoury ingredients which I think little people (as well as big people) will like. The added texture of toasted pine nuts also works very well. I’ll be making them exactly the same from now on! Oh and I can confirm that they freeze well.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

SAVOURY COURGETTE/ZUCCHINI AND PINE NUT MUFFINS

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 18 mins
Makes 12
Freezable

200g plain flour
40g jumbo oats
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1-2 tsp flaky sea salt (depending on how salty your parmesan is – you can easily leave this out for toddlers)
A few grinds of black pepper
8 large basil leaves, shredded
60g parmesan, coarsely grated, plus another 20g or so to sprinkle on the top
2 eggs
250g whole milk yoghurt
4 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
200g courgette/zucchini, coarsely grated
40g pine nuts, toasted
40g sultanas

Heat the oven to 200C and line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, bicarb, salt, pepper, basil and parmesan.

In a separate smaller bowl (or jug), whisk together the eggs, yoghurt and oil, pour this over the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until roughly combined – don’t overmix.

Add the courgette/zucchini, pine nuts and sultanas, and stir until just evenly distributed.

Spoon or scoop (using an ice cream scoop) the batter into the muffin tin and sprinkle over the rest of the parmesan.

Bake for about 18 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Leave them to cool in the tin for a couple of minutes to firm up before transferring them to a cooling rack.

What other yummy pasta flavours do you think would work well in a muffin?

 

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Smoked Bacon and Courgette Pasta

This quick and easy pasta dish, ideal for the whole family, is another recipe from Annabel Karmel’s latest book which I reviewed a little while ago.

Annabel Karmel macaroni, bacon and courgette pasta

The original recipe uses macaroni, but any short type of pasta such as penne or farfalle would work well. It also uses crème fraîche, which can easily be substituted with Greek yogurt or even soured cream if you don’t have it on hand.

The book says this dish is suitable for freezing. It’s not clear if it means you can freeze the whole dish or just the sauce. Either way I’m always dubious about freezing crème fraîche or yogurt when mixed with other ingredients as they have a tendency to separate (the water from the dairy product separating when frozen). I’ve never thought about freezing pasta (and I think Italian hubby would be horrified!). Has anyone tried it?

Nicholas is thankfully going through a slightly better period with vegetables (fingers crossed it lasts!), but he still picked out a lot of the courgette/zucchini. If you’re feeding this to a fussy eater, dice the veg as small as you can.

SMOKED BACON AND COURGETTE PASTA

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Makes 1 adult and 2 toddler servings

150g pasta (any short type like penne, macaroni, farfalle or orecchiette)
3 thick sices smoked bacon, diced
2 small courgettes/zucchini, diced
1 tomato, deseeded and diced
2 tbsp snipped fresh chives
3 tbsp crème fraîche (or Greek yogurt)
50g parmesan, grated
salt and pepper (optional)

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling lightly salted water according to the packet instructions. Drain, reserving 150ml of the cooking water.

While the pasta is cooking, dry-fry the bacon for 2 minutes in a non-stick frying pan. Add the courgettes and fry for another 5 minutes until they are soft and lightly golden, then add the tomatoes and chives.

Add the pasta to the frying pan with the reserved water, crème fraîche and parmesan. Toss together over the heat for 2 minutes (be careful not to let the crème fraîche split by heating it too much).

Add seasoning if desired, then serve.

Super quick dough-free pizza

Have you ever had a craving for pizza, but couldn’t be bothered making pizza dough? In the time it will take you to pick up the phone and order one, you can make your own, much healthier, dough-free pizza from what you probably already have in your kitchen.

This great idea comes from the lovely Jennifer Cheung over at Kidspot, and I love the fact you’re getting some extra veg in your diet instead of extra carbs. They’re also the perfect size for little fingers to feed themselves.

dough-free pizza

Instead of dough bases, these pizzas use slices of grilled courgette/zucchini. You could also use grilled aubergine/eggplant as the base. Toppings are entirely up to you, but be careful not to put too much on, as the vegetable bases are floppy. Why not get your munchkins to help and decide their own toppings?

The original recipe uses ready-made pasta sauce, and a ready grated and blended mix of pizza cheese, which is super convenient. I used a little tub of concentrated tomato paste and some fresh mozzarella which you just tear into small pieces with your fingers, so not that much more time-consuming.

Allow one courgette/zucchini, cut into 4 slices, per adult. Leftovers keep well in the fridge for the next day and they’d be ideal for popping into lunch boxes for a change from sandwiches.

SUPER QUICK DOUGH-FREE PIZZA

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 8 – 10 mins
Makes 2 toddler servings or 1 adult serving

1 courgette/zucchini
1 tsp olive oil
4 tsp tomato paste (or ready-made pasta sauce or homemade tomato sauce)
approx. 75g fresh mozzarella, torn into small pieces
3-4 slices cooked ham, diced

Cut the ends off the courgette and then cut lengthways into 4 slices.

Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan over a med heat, and grill the courgette until just soft and golden (about 3 mins each side).

Remove from the pan. Spoon over the tomato paste or sauce, and top with ham and mozzarella. Place under a hot grill for a minute or two until the cheese is golden.

Leave to cool for a couple of minutes before serving.

dough-free pizza

Variations:

  • use slices of grilled aubergine/eggplant for the bases
  • leave out the ham for a vegetarian pizza
  • add whatever other toppings you like

What would be your perfect dough-free pizza topping?

Courgette (zucchini) soup

Yes, another soup recipe! Since returning to the cold weather of the UK I’ve been making soup at least once a week. It really is (for me anyway) an easy way of getting more vegetables into Nicholas’ diet. We’ve even sometimes been having a small mug of soup for an afternoon snack (often with a straw just for fun!).

Making soup is generally quick, only requiring a bit of chopping, a bit of stirring, usually followed by some blending. Then it’s ready and waiting in the fridge for the next few days. Any leftovers go in the freezer for another day.

As with all cooking, the fresher your ingredients the better the end taste will be. And with soup, although stock made from a stock cube (preferably low-salt if cooking for little ones) is absolutely fine, if you use a better quality stock (either bought or homemade) you will taste the difference.

You don’t need great knife skills when making blended soups. However, the smaller you chop the vegetables (especially the potatoes), the quicker they’ll take to cook.

courgette (zucchini) soup

COURGETTE (ZUCCHINI) SOUP

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15-20 mins
Makes 4 adult servings
Freezable

2 large or 3 medium-sized courgettes (zucchini), diced
1 onion, diced
1 medium-sized potato, diced
1 tbsp olive oil (or butter)
500ml hot vegetable or chicken stock
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pot over a medium heat. Add the courgettes, onion and potato, and sauté for 5 minutes without letting the vegetables brown (turn the heat down if they do start to brown).

Pour in the stock, bring to the boil then turn the heat down to low and simmer until the vegetables are soft (about 10 minutes if you’ve diced them into small pieces).

Remove from the heat and purée until smooth. Add salt and pepper if needed.

To make it more special, serve with a dollop of yoghurt or cream and a sprinkling of chives.

Cheesy courgette muffins

Nicholas loves being in his kitchen pod, up where all the action is happening, and today as soon as he was in it he started chanting ‘Cook! Cook! Cook!’ Mummy couldn’t have been happier!

Up until now, we’ve just made biscuits together, either my chewy oaty biscuits or a variation of them. I thought it was time to try something savoury, something Nicholas could have as a proper meal rather than a treat. Looking through one of my favourite mummy foodie blogs for inspiration, Gourmet Mum, I knew Filipa’s muffin recipe would be perfect.

I made very few changes to Filipa’s recipe as it’s fantastic as it is. She uses dried as well as fresh herbs, but I just used fresh, and I sprinkled some grated parmesan over the tops of the muffins before baking for an extra crispy cheesy top (What makes cheesy muffins taste better? More cheese!).

If you’re making these with little ones, prepare everything beforehand so they’re just pouring and mixing. Older children can do more of the preparation, especially weighing and measuring the ingredients.

The muffins are wonderful for lunch (you can serve them with some raw vegetables) and would be great for brunch or packed in a picnic basket. And if you’re not a vegetarian, they’d be delicious with some pieces of cooked ham or bacon in the mixture.

CHEESY COURGETTE MUFFINS

Prep time: 10-15 mins
Cook time: 20-30 mins
Makes 12 regular-sized muffins
Freezable

200g self-raising white flour
100g self raising wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
80g cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
1 small courgette / zucchini (about 120g), coarsely grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
210ml milk
90ml vegetable oil
1 tbsp fresh chives or parsley, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
4 tbsp grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 200C. Either lightly spray a 12-hole muffin tray with cooking spray or line with paper cases.

Mix the white and wholemeal flours, baking powder and grated cheese in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl or jug, combine the courgette, eggs, milk, oil, herbs and salt (if using). Add this to the flour mixture, mixing until just combined (mixing as little as possible keeps your muffins light in texture).

Divide the mixture evenly between the 12 muffin holes. Sprinkle the grated parmesan over the tops of the muffins.

Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden and cooked through when tested with a skewer.

Tip out onto a wire cooling rack.

Variations:

  • Add a handful of chopped cooked ham or bacon to the muffin mixture.

Minty courgette pasta sauce

It’s well and truly time for another pasta sauce recipe, and I love one that you can make in about the same time as the pasta takes to cook!

The flavours for this sauce were inspired by my herby courgette pasta salad. There’s something very fresh about mint and courgette, and the basil gives a deeper flavour so the mint isn’t too sweet. And the yogurt brings it all together, ready to be mixed through some lovely pasta.

It’s perfect for every member of your family. Babies can have the sauce and pasta pureed together, or have the sauce over baby pasta. Adults will probably want a bit more seasoning than toddlers. Here’s to cooking one meal for everyone!

MINTY COURGETTE PASTA SAUCE

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 5 mins
Makes 1 toddler and 1 adult portion

1 medium courgette (zucchini), grated and the excess water squeezed out
1 tsp unsalted butter
1 tsp olive oil
7 fresh mint leaves, finely sliced
2 large fresh basil leaves, finely sliced
2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
Salt and pepper (optional)

In a medium-sized frying pan, heat the oil and butter over a medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, add the grated courgette (seasoning if using) and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously.

Add the mint and basil, and cook for another 2 minutes.

Take the courgette mix off the heat and stir through the yogurt.

Serve over cooked pasta.

For babies, purée the sauce and pasta together until smooth, or serve the sauce over baby pasta.

Variations:

  • For toddlers and adults, add some garlic as you’re cooking the courgette (1/2 clove of crushed garlic or a sprinkle of garlic granules)
  • Finely dice the courgette rather than grate it for a chunkier sauce
  • Use double (thickened) cream instead of yogurt
  • Add a sprinkle of toasted pine nuts just before serving

Tip: if you want to freeze this sauce, don’t add the yogurt. After defrosting the sauce, add fresh yogurt once you’ve heated it.

Do you have any recipes that are perfect for the whole family?

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,  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