I have a gorgeous niece who is nearly 3 and she absolutely adores her veggies as long as she doesn’t know she is eating them. My sister – trained in the art of toddler tea time – will mash the offending veg into sauces and occasionally place a couple of ‘whole veg distractions’ on top of the meal for her daughter to cast aside with dramatic indignation and then devour the veg packed meal non the wiser (genius!).
This is a peace keeping pasta recipe, replicating my sisters tried and tested veg hiding method for times when stealth rather than toddler negotiation are called for. It’s also a sustaining meal for Mummy’s and Daddy’s for those days where you have only had time for Weetabix (is there a faster to eat cereal?!) and cold coffee and you need to pack in some veg at dinner time.
The cooking method is Italian with a twist; as I want to feed the recipe to my 1 year old I have cut out the salt, sugar (replacing that with artichoke; see the end of the recipe to find out why!) and we wait to add balsamic vinegar to the adult version when plating up so it’s not too acidic.
You can use normal durum wheat pasta or to add additional protein, we tried gluten free quinoa pasta and it’s surprisingly delicious!
The secret veg sauce will keep for around 4 days in a sealed container in the fridge or can be frozen. We have also enjoyed it as a pizza topping or popped it in a pitta pouch for a baby snack.
4 red, orange or yellow bells peppers
4 large carrots
Extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
250g of mushrooms finely chopped
2 x 400g of tins of whole cherry or plum tomatoes (the Italian ones are usually lovely and sweet)
Two handfuls of fresh basil, finely chopped (save a few little leaves for a pretty garnish!)
1 tin of artichokes in water, washed (easier to wash away the salt than artichokes in oil)
2 large handfuls of baby spinach
2 handfuls of broccoli florets
A plant protein based pasta like quinoa or lentil (you will find this in the gluten free section!), or a fresh egg based pasta, or add a little cheese/cashew cheese as a topping for extra protein if using durum wheat pasta!
1 tbsp of almond milk for a baby portion
A few capers for each adult portion
Pre heat the oven to 200°C (fan assisted)
- Slice the carrots in half and into 3 cm lengths, then deseed and chop the peppers into quarters . Space the carrots and peppers on a baking tray so they don’t overlap, drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and place in the hot oven for 20-25 mins (the veg should be starting to caramelise not burn).
- Add a little olive oil to a large non stick saucepan and fry the chopped onion until soft, then add the garlic and chopped mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes taking care not to burn that lovely garlic!
- Add the tinned tomatoes to the saucepan and break down with a wooden spoon. Add half the chopped basil leaves.
- Allow the sauce to bubble away gently for 45 minutes so it reduces.
- While your sauce is reducing your peppers and carrots will have finished roasting in the oven; it’s time to add those to your saucepan with the washed artichokes, baby spinach and broccoli.
- Cook your pasta to the packet instructions and leave a baby serving in the water a little longer for young babies. Drain and set to one side when done.
- When your sauce has finished cooking you can either mash the veg down with a potato masher or I like to blitz with a stick blender for a smoother sauce.
- Stir the remaining basil through the veg sauce and serve with your pasta.
- Garnish with baby basil leaves and for adults add capers and a dash of balsamic vinegar.
We add a little almond milk to the baby portion to take the acidic edge off the sauce for my 1 year old.
If your kids love a particular veg you may chose to steam it or roast it and use it as garnish but hide away the rest of the veg so it looks more colourful but not too daunting!