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Spinach lasagne

Nicholas is a big meat eater (not surprising if you know his parents!). He usually happily shares his food when asked, but if it happens to be some meat he’s particularly enjoying, then he’s more likely to shovel everything into his mouth as quickly as possible then gesture with his hands it’s all gone (what a shame!).

During our holidays it was easy to feed him meat, but less easy to get him to eat a good amount of vegetables. And with the nice weather at the weekend, we had two days of barbecues at friends’ with Nicholas happily devouring hamburgers and chorizo sausages. Vegetables? Not interested mummy, more MEAT.

So my objective for this week was to get as many vegies in him as possible!

My vegetarian lasagne is just a simplified lasagne that’s not too time-consuming to prepare or cook. Looking for a dish small enough to fit just one sheet of lasagna, I had the brainwave of using a loaf tin and mine was the perfect size. Any ovenproof dish would be fine though.

I used spinach, yellow pepper (capsicum), mushrooms and onion in my vegetable layer to pack in lots of nutrients (and don’t you just love the bright yellow and green colours?). You can use pretty much whatever vegetables you like or have on hand.

I remember my first attempts as a uni student making lasagne… not great. I didn’t understand the concept of the dry pasta sheets needing moisture to soften and cook. I thought the edges I didn’t cover with sauce would get nice and crunchy. Well they did, but they were also raw! It’s not rocket science, just make sure when you’re spooning the sauce over the pasta that the sheet is completely covered.

SPINACH LASAGNA

Prep time: 30-35 mins
Cook time: 20-25 mins
Makes 4 toddler servings (or 2 toddler servings & 1 adult serving)
Freezable

1/2 onion, diced
100g mushrooms, chopped
1 small yellow pepper (capsicum), diced
75g fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1 tsp olive oil
50g butter
2 tbsp plain flour
2 cups milk
A pinch of salt (optional)
A pinch of nutmeg
3 uncooked lasagna sheets
100g mozzarella di bufala (or any fresh mozzarella)
A handful of grated parmesan

Heat your oven to 220C.

In a medium frying pan, heat the olive oil over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 mins.

Add the mushrooms and pepper. Cover the pan and turn the heat down a little to med-low. Cook until the onion is transparent and the vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally.

Add the spinach and stir until it just starts to wilt. Take the pan off the heat.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a med-low heat. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon for 1 minute (this cooks the flour to avoid having a raw flour taste in your sauce).

Add about 1/4 cup of the milk to the flour paste and use a whisk to stir to get rid of any lumps immediately. Turn the heat up to medium and gradually whisk in the rest of the milk. Keep whisking until the sauce thickens to a runny custard consistency (not too thick), making sure it doesn’t boil.

Take the white sauce off the heat and add a pinch of salt (if using) and a good pinch of nutmeg. Mix and taste, adding more salt and/or nutmeg if necessary.

In a loaf tin, big enough to hold one lasagna sheet, spoon a few tablespoons of sauce into the bottom (just enough to cover it). Place a sheet of lasagna on top. Cover with half of the vegetable ‘sauce’ and then about one third of the remaining white sauce (making sure the pasta sheet is completely covered). Pull apart one third of the mozzarella into chunks with your fingers and sprinkle it over.

Add another layer of pasta, vegetables, white sauce and mozzarella.

Finish with the third sheet of pasta, top with the last of the white sauce, the remaining mozzarella and sprinkle over the parmesan.

Cook for 20-25 mins until the top is lovely and golden and the pasta is cooked (a knife or skewer will easily pierce through from the top to the bottom). If the top is getting too golden, cover with foil and continue cooking.

Variations:

  • use any combination of vegetables in the vegetable sauce
  • add long slices of lightly fried courgette (zucchini) or aubergine (egg plant) under your vegetable sauce
  • use dollops of ricotta instead of the mozzarella

Spicy salmon parcels (adult recipe)

Ever since I discovered cooking salmon in foil parcels, I’ve pretty much never cooked it any other way. I love minimising clearing up and washing up, and there’s something about opening a ‘present’ (even if I wrapped it myself!) at the dinner table that puts me in a good mood.

Hubby came across this recipe a number of years ago on an Italian cooking site and I haven’t managed to find it again. You’re supposed to cook the parcels in the oven (at 180C for 10-15 mins) but I always cook them over a grill pan; you could also cook them on a barbecue. It’s one of my ‘go to’ recipes we eat regularly. Maybe it will become one of yours?

SPICY SALMON PARCELS

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
Serves 4 adults

4 salmon fillets, with or without skin
1 tsp ground cumin
1 pinch chilli powder
1 tsp garlic salt
1 pinch paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices lemon

Heat the grill pan over a high heat.

In a small bowl mix all the spices (cumin, chilli, garlic salt, paprika and coriander) together with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add the white wine and mix well.

Cut 4 pieces of foil and drizzle olive oil in the middle of each. Place a piece of salmon on top of the oil (skin-side down if it has skin).

Fold in the sides of the foil and fold up the front and back of the foil. Ease out the sides of the foil a little to create a ‘box’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evenly spoon the spice mix over the four pieces of salmon and place a slice of lemon on top. Drizzle with olive oil again.

Bring the front and back of the foil ‘box’ together and fold them over a few times to create a parcel.

Place the parcels on the hot grill pan and reduce the heat to med-high. Cook for 8-10 minutes until just cooked through. Serve in the foil parcels.

Tip: use extra strong foil or use two pieces of foil on top of each other for each parcel, to avoid leaks and therefore save you from cleaning the grill pan 🙂

Ricotta and spinach pasta sauce

I love a quick pasta sauce for Nicholas. If I have ricotta in the fridge, I’ll add a tablespoon or two to cooked pasta and mix it together with a sprinkling of nutmeg; it’s a meal ready in a few minutes.

My favourite addition to this basic ricotta pasta sauce is spinach. Spinach is packed with almost every vitamin and nutrient we need, so it’s the perfect vegetable to add to our munchkins’ meals.

I wilt the spinach by pouring over boiling water (see my Super Easy and Fast Creamy Spinach Pasta Sauce for some photos of the process), but you can wilt it quickly in a frying pan if you prefer.

RICOTTA AND SPINACH PASTA SAUCE

Prep time: 5-10 mins (depending on how long it takes for your kettle to boil!)
Cook time: 0 mins 🙂
Makes 1 toddler serving

1 large handful of fresh spinach
1 tbsp ricotta
A pinch of nutmeg
A pinch of salt and pepper (optional)

Fill your kettle with water and turn it on. Put the spinach in a colander.

Holding the colander over the sink, pour over half the boiling water. Use a wooden spoon to push down the spinach to drain it. Pour over the rest of the boiling water and again drain the spinach as much as you can.

Chop the spinach and put it in a small bowl. Add the ricotta and nutmeg (and salt and pepper, if using) and mix.

Stir through cooked pasta.

Variations:

  • If you have more time, put the cooked pasta and sauce into an ovenproof bowl, sprinkle with parmesan and bake at 180C for approximately 10 mins until golden brown

Other uses:

  • serve over rice
  • use as a crepe filling

Quiche muffins

Thinking of something light I could make for a friend dropping in for lunch that would also be fine for Nicholas, I remembered coming across a recipe for making mini quiches without pastry. For some strange reason I hadn’t saved it on my Pinterest cooking board, so I had to make it up. Thankfully not that difficult.

Instead of pastry, the muffin ‘cases’ are made with ham. One of those brilliant ideas you wonder why you never thought of it yourself. Even if you buy ready-made pastry you need to cut it out and prebake it just to make sure it cooks through. Not that I’m a lazy cook (well…) but I do love a super quick recipe that requires very little thinking. Also not having pastry means it’s great if you happen to be following the Dukan diet.

I tried using prosciutto for some and slices of peppered cooked ham for others. While the ham was yummy, the prosciutto was nicer because it crisps up, especially around the edges. If you use prosciutto, be careful not to add too much salt to the egg mixture as the prosciutto is salty.

Like traditional quiches you can really add almost anything you want. Fry up some onion and pop it in the bottom before you pour in the egg mixture, do they same with mushrooms or asparagus tips, add a slice of tomato or, my favourite, add a dollop of creme fraiche.

I have yet to master lining the cups so the egg mixture doesn’t run out (you can see in my photo that it looks more like the prosciutto is through the muffin rather than encasing it), but so long as you grease the cups beforehand and then run a knife around the edge after they’re done, it doesn’t really matter.

They’d be great in lunch boxes or to take on a picnic. I can also see them smaller as party finger food. Definitely versatile! I haven’t tried freezing them yet; they’d probably need a bit of time in the oven to crisp up after thawing.

QUICHE MUFFINS

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15-18 mins
Makes 6 large muffins

6 slices prosciutto (Parma ham)
6 eggs
2 tbsp milk
20g cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
Oil for greasing muffin tray

Preheat oven to 175C.

Lightly grease a 6-cup muffin tray and line each muffin cup with prosciutto.

Lightly beat the eggs and milk together and season. Pour evenly into each cup (don’t worry if it doesn’t seem enough mixture as it will rise as it cooks). Sprinkle over the grated cheese.

Cook for 15-18 mins until egg mixture has set.

Variations:

  • Add a dollop of creme fraiche to each cup before pouring in the egg mixture.
  • Put lightly fried onion in each cup before pouring in the egg mixture.
  • Add cooked mushroom or asparagus tips, or sliced tomato

Mini carbonara

As an Italian living abroad my husband has two recurring food grumbles. I think you can probably easily guess one of them. Yes, it’s coffee! I can’t really say too much about this as I was a bit of a coffee snob before living in Italy, so ended up being an even bigger one, and it tends to be me more than hubby turning up my nose at things like Nespresso pods. However, I do love his child-like optimism and hopefulness when trying coffee in a new place and patiently explaining to the waiter it’s not necessary to fill the little cup right up (while I’m pessimistic and opt for tea!).

His other grumble, about which our friends have endured many a lengthy conversation, is carbonara. He can talk for ages about his disgust at what passes for carbonara in many restaurants outside Italy, his disbelief at the additions people make to it, and the right way of making it. I love his passion for his culture, and for this reason I’ve never admitted making ‘carbonara’ during my university days from a recipe using evaporated milk, for fear of divorce!

Making a carbonara for Nicholas, hubby was happy to be a little bit more flexible. His less salty toddler version uses prosciutto (parma ham) instead of pancetta or guanciale and parmigiano (parmesan) rather than the saltier pecorino. He used a quail’s egg simply for its smaller size, but you could also beat up an egg and use half the mixture instead. Hubby would approve of that 😉

The most important thing when preparing any kind of carbonara is to have the sauce ingredients ready once the pasta is cooked, so you can drain the pasta and immediately mix through the sauce.

Enjoy this authentically Italian toddler version of a famous pasta recipe!

MINI CARBONARA

Prep time: 5-10 mins
Cook time: about 15 mins depending on which type of pasta you cook
Makes 1 toddler serving

1 slice prosciutto (Parma ham), cut into small pieces
drizzle of olive oil
30g pasta
1 quail egg, lightly beaten (or 1/2 beaten egg)
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp parmigiano (parmesan)

Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a small frying pan and cook the prosciutto over a med-high heat until crispy. Take off the heat and leave.

Cook pasta as directed on the packet, but without adding salt to the water.

As the pasta is cooking, put the beaten quail egg into a bowl big enough to add and mix the pasta in. Add a pinch of pepper and the parmigiano to the egg and mix well.

As soon as the pasta is cooked, quickly drain it (keeping a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water) and put it in with the egg mixture. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat the pasta. Put it into the frying pan with the crispy prosciutto and stir constantly over a medium heat until the egg is just cooked (1-2 mins), adding a little of the reserved cooking water from the pasta if it seems to be getting too dry (you want a lovely creamy consistency to the sauce).

Serve and blow on it so you can eat it as soon as possible.

Variations: none!

Butter bean pasta sauce

This is a super quick pasta sauce you can whip up in the time it takes for the pasta to cook, and using tinned beans means no cooking!

The amount of milk is an approximate measure; it depends on how much the beans soak up. If you let the sauce stand before using it, the beans will continue sucking up the milk and the sauce will become drier. Trust your own judgement as to how much milk to add.

You can easily make as much or as little sauce as you want, either using just a couple of tablespoons of beans to make one serving or using the whole tin and freezing the leftover sauce. Why not experiment using other different types of tinned beans?

BUTTER BEAN PASTA SAUCE

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 0 mins 🙂
Makes about 300ml of sauce
Freezable

1 tin butter beans (approx. 400g), rinsed and drained
Approx. 1/4 cup of milk
Pinch of salt (optional)
To serve: 1 tbsp grated parmesan

Put the rinsed and drained butter beans in a small food processor. Add about half of the milk (and salt if using) and blend until smooth. Check the consistency , adding more milk and blending again as necessary.

Mix through cooked pasta and sprinkle generously with grated parmesan.

Quick salmon pasta sauce with crème fraiche and dill

This recipe is actually my hubby’s creation, which I’m stealing! While I’ve made something similar in the past, our approaches to cooking for Nicholas are rather different. I focus on speed of cooking and the fewer things to clean up afterwards the better. Hubby sticks to his Italian roots and does things ‘properly’!

My version of this cooks the salmon in milk in the microwave, then everything else goes in the same bowl as the salmon (why dirty another bowl?!). Hubby’s version is a bit different…

Quick salmon pasta sauce with crème fraiche and dill

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

30-40g fresh salmon fillet, with skin removed
Drizzle of olive oil
2 tbsp crème fraiche
A pinch of salt and pepper (optional)
1/2 sprig fresh dill, chopped

Chop the salmon into small cubes (about 5mm). Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a small frying pan over med-low heat. Add the salmon and cook for a minute or two until just cooked.

Take off the heat and stir in the crème fraiche. Season, if using. Add your cooked pasta and mix in the pan. Sprinkle over dill and serve.

Variations:
– Use fresh or tinned tuna instead of the salmon
– Replace the crème fraiche with yogurt or cream
– Use chives or parsley instead of the dill

Other uses:
– Use the sauce as a crepe filling
– Dollop the sauce over a baked potato