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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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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?

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

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

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 🙂
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