Posts tagged pasta

Pasta. Cheese. Chicken. Baked.

Gotta love a straight to the point post.

So here’s a yummy dinner. Hope you like it.

Easy to make. Easy to eat.

Easy to make. Easy to eat.

Smoked chicken pasta bake

1 cup broccoli florets
3 cups cooked macaroni (or other small pasta) – this recipe is great for using up leftover pasta
1 zucchini, grated
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1/2 red capsicum, finely diced
1 cup peas
2 cups diced smoked chicken, skin removed (or you can use regular poached chicken, but I HIGHLY recommend the smoked stuff)
1 tbsp chives or basil or parsley (optional, but nice)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (plus extra for sprinkling on top)
250g ricotta cheese (use full fat)
125g can creamed corn
Pepper

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Steam or microwave your broccoli until just tender. (I just throw mine in the microwave for a minute or so). Drain off any liquid, chop into quite small pieces and throw into a large mixing bowl.

Add all the rest of the ingredients into the bowl and mix until really well combined. Season with pepper.

Scoop the lot into a medium baking dish. Press it down firmly and scatter extra cheese over the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden and the rest is bubbling.

Serves 2 adults & 2 kids.

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Like this style dish?

Try Lulu’s favourite pasta bake
Or this Baked tuna & tomato rice

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Is your kid a fussy eater? Here’s where to start…

Start simple. Here.

Start simple. Here.

Today’s recipe is for all the parents whose toddlers get pleasure from winding their mummies and daddies up as much as possible during each meal.

Look! They think. Daddy’s face goes so red when I refuse to eat that! Look! Mummy’s head is about to explode each time I shriek! How about I drop the rest of my dinner ON THE FLOOR – won’t THAT reaction be hilarious.

Ah yes. Lovely mealtimes like that with Miss F are the reason why Vegie Smugglers exists. We had SO MANY unhappy dinners together. So much scraping of uneaten food into the bin. So often I was SO CLOSE TO LOSING IT. We were locked in an ongoing food battle.

I was determined to win the war, because I love to eat and I hated that dinnertime had become so miserable. And last Friday night when I watched a now 8-year-old Miss F crunch happily through a salad of corn/snow peas/broccolini & cos, I realised that I HAD WON.

But how did I start to turn things around? Well Miss F liked cheese, so I started there. I made her cheesy pots. And she liked bread, so I gave her salmon pikelets (at first without the green bits). I started with what she DID eat and expanded out from there.

So if your little food fascist likes tinned spaghetti, then this recipe might be your starting point. Do whatever you need to do to have some dinnertime wins and if that means sneakily replacing a junk favourite with a healthy home-made version then DO IT.

If they eat this happily then next time you could make it with wholemeal pasta. Or put in some grated carrot. Then, in a while, try little chunks of carrot instead. If they like these flavours, migrate them to a lasagna, cannelloni or a lentil pasta sauce that has more smuggling potential. As time goes by, you’ll have to do less and less to hide anything, until they happily just eat a raw carrot or snack on grape tomatoes.

Watching Miss F munch through her raw greens, I was so glad that I’ve put all the effort in. Most toddlers are fussy eaters and without intervention many will grow to be fussy tweens/teens & adults. Teaching them how to love healthy food is a gift they will carry for life.

Couldn't help myself.

Couldn’t help myself.

Home-made tinned spaghetti

I don’t usually stipulate organic products, but think in this simple recipe they’re essential.

2 cups pumpkin, diced
250g organic spaghetti (half a standard pack) – broken into short lengths
125g can 4-bean mix, drained, rinsed
700ml jar organic passata (find it near the pasta)
1 tsp brown sugar

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add the pumpkin and cook until soft (about 7-10 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces). Use a slotted spoon to remove the pumpkin and pop it into a drainer (keep the water boiling).

Pop the spaghetti into the same boiling water and cook according to packet directions.

Put the beans, cooked pumpkin, passata and sugar into a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to the simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Use a stick blender to blitz everything up into a smooth sauce.

Drain the spaghetti then add into your tomato sauce.

Serve topped with Parmesan. For a more substantial meal, top with crumbled crispy bacon or pop in some meatballs (try this lamb meatball recipe).

MAKES ABOUT 8 TODDLER PORTIONS (freeze some for easy dinners in a flash).

This recipe appears in my new "Kitchen Collection" cookbook, with a toddler-feeding tips and family-friendly recipes.

This recipe appears in my new “Kitchen Collection” cookbook, with toddler-feeding tips and 125 family-friendly recipes.

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Need more help with fussy eaters? Try these posts…

Please help Vegie Smugglers, my child only eats…
How to get fussy kids to try new foods.
My top 10 tips to smuggle vegies into children.

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The toys look as tired as I feel

Looking around at the constant mess that is my house during the school holidays, I keep seeing signs that the toys are feeling my pain. I suspect that ‘Toy Story’ is real after all.

Frazzled.

Frazzled (with my body on backwards).

Askew (and just slightly stabby).

Askew (and just slightly stabby).

Confused (don't know my up from down).

Confused (don’t know up from down).

Queasy (although the holiday hangover is passing).

Queasy (although the holiday hangover is passing).

In need of a good lay down (when does school go back?).

In need of a good lay down (when does school go back?).

Funny how I was looking forward to these school holidays so much. Now after almost three weeks of it, I can’t actually discern any difference between the school and non-school parts of the year in terms of my workload. Actually during the holidays I have more interruptions and there isn’t a half hour where the house stays in order.

So the exhaustion levels are the same but the tasks have changed. Instead of packing lunchboxes and endlessly turning socks inside out and matching them, I’m now constantly washing the sand out of beach towels and applying sunscreen (my most hated job, but I can’t trust them to do a good job on their own).

The calendar tells me that the New Year is underway and many people’s holidays are over. Once more I’m reminded that mums don’t ever really get a holiday, do we? Yesterday, I did sneak an hour and a half on the deck with my kindle and a gin & tonic. I guess that’ll have to do.

Am I the only one feeling a little ripped off? What are your best ways to find some relaxation amongst the holiday chaos? Let me know QUICK! The kids don’t have to get off the PS3 for another 45 minutes – that’s my downtime slot for today!

In return, I’m offering you an easy dinner to ease your workload. It’ll use up all that basil which is probably going to seed in this heat. It’s from the Complete Lunchboxes Planner e-book.

Vegie Smugglers pesto pasta salad

Easy to make and yum either warm for dinner or cold on picnics.


Pesto Pasta Salad

1 large clove garlic
¼ cup pine nuts
1 bunch basil leaves
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup grated parmesan (please don’t use the powdered stuff)
250g pasta spirals
½ punnet cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

In a food processor (mini one is best), blitz together the garlic and pine nuts. Add the basil and blitz well. Combine in the oil (a little at a time). Stir in the cheese. Set aside (all day if you like).

Cook the pasta according to packet directions. Scoop out 1⁄2 cup of the water and set aside, then drain pasta and return to saucepan. Pour over pesto and mix through. Use more oil or reserved cooking water if too dry. Stir through the tomatoes.

SERVES 2 ADULTS & 2 KIDS.

vs-promo-1

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Just because

Miss F and Mr M&P were outside on the weekend, setting the ground rules for an imaginative play game. Being a Virgo, Miss F likes to have the back-story fully told, with characters thoroughly fleshed out before the playing begins. Usually she will transform herself and her brother into animals, so the species, colour, familial relationships, full names, colour preferences and purpose of journey/adventure will all be established before she get into character (and the dirt) ready to play.

Mr M&P is a less complicated fellow but happily goes along with it all. He was nodding away, agreeing to all the details and finally added his own, “and all their last names will be ‘Doodle’”. Smirk smirk snigger.
“Why?” demanded Miss F, more than a bit annoyed by his flippancy.
“Just because” said Mr M&P with such a sense of finality that I was impressed.

I loved evesdropping on perfect a moment of childhood. Just because. There is no reason. Just because doodle is a funny word and it makes him (and me) laugh.

I realised that I don’t do much ‘just because’. There doesn’t seem to be much room for ‘just because’ when you’re an adult. Everything seems to need a reason, a justification for why I’m spending energy on it. Things can be fun, but they are usually with purpose.

Perhaps this is why I love summer so much. There’s a whole lot more opportunity for ‘just because’. Sure you have a swim for the valid reason that you need to cool down, but while you’re under water it’s nice to have a glide about and pretend you’re a mermaid (if only for a few seconds). Just because it’s good for your soul to have a bit of silly fun from time to time. And I’m thinking that the pursuit of ‘just because’ might be one of my new goals for 2013.

Before that though, we’ve got the Christmas season to get through. The barrage of upcoming events is likely to cause havoc to your usual routines, which is why I’m proposing a pasta salad this week. Make a batch of it and you’ll have instant dinners and lunches ready to go whenever you need them. Should give you more ‘just because’ time.

Basic balsamic salad dressing
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
¼ cup lemon juice
¾ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced

Combine all of these ingredients and mix well. Keeps for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

pasta salad

Ready, delicious and waiting (in the fridge)


Tuna pasta salad

500g pasta (I like orecchiette)
½ quantity basic balsamic dressing (if you like really glossy salads, you may want to use more)
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
5 spring onions, finely sliced
400g can tuna in spring water (drained) – Omit this ingredient for a vegetarian salad!
1 large carrot, peeled, grated
½ red capsicum, finely diced
400g can corn kernels, drained
Olives
Basil
Pepper

(other yum ingredients include fennel, cannelini beans, red onion, artichoke hearts, green beans and banana chillis)

Cook the pasta according to packet directions. Drain quickly and return to the hot pan. Pour over the salad dressing and toss through the tomatoes and spring onions (the residual heat of the pasta cooks them slightly).

Mix through the rest of the ingredients. Season well with pepper. Serve warm or pop straight into the fridge and enjoy later on, cold.

Serves a family of four for dinner, then enough for lunches the next day too.

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Dinner for you two, dinner for me too

vegie smugglers lentil tomato pasta

One dinner, two ways.

Pretty much any parent I chat to starts the food conversation with “my kids are pretty good eaters”. I nod in admiration of their parenting prowess. But I wait (not smugly, I promise). Invariably a BUT is inserted next.

“But devil child won’t eat meat and Lucinda only eats greens if you let her hold a pink jelly bean and I sing ‘rock-a-bye-your-bear’. But apart from that, they eat everything”.

Battle weary parents tend to confuse ‘good’ with ‘normal’. Jumping through hoops every mealtime becomes just what you do and you forget that actually you might be able to tweak things and get away with doing much less. Like cooking one meal a night. Which would leave you more wine time and lower stress levels.

Which is something I aim for with my recipes. I’m too lazy (actually no, just too busy) to cook multiple meals, so I like to cook one basic dinner for everyone. Being a realist though, I understand that the same presentation won’t suit all members of the family, which is why in my books I often have tips for ways to convert a pretty basic dinner into something more gourmet for the adults.

This tomato & lentil pasta sauce recipe is the perfect example.

Mr VS & I like it with olives, tonnes of herbs, pepper and parmesan. It’s a healthy and yummy grown up meal. My kids will skip the accompaniments and have the sauce mixed through their current pasta of preference (spirals at the moment) with grated cheddar cheese on top.

If you have toddlers, take the time to spoon mouthfuls into large pasta shells and scatter cheese on top. Just serve them a few and watch greedy little hands shoving the mouthfuls straight in. No spoon middle-man to overcomplicate matters. Even if your fussy eater only eats a few, you’ve probably got some scraps of veg and a couple of lentils in, which should tide them over until next week.

I know it’s only Tuesday, but cheers. Here’s to you for being awesome.

Tomato & lentil pasta sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried Italian herbs
1 large fresh tomato, diced
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1/2 red capsicum, finely diced
800g can diced tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato paste (or 1x2tbsp concentrate sachet)
400g can lentils, rinsed, drained
Pepper

Optional extras: Fresh parsley or basil, olives, parmesan, crumbled feta.

Place a saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil and fry the onion for several minutes until softening. Add the garlic for a minute then scatter over the brown sugar. Keep stirring until well combined before splashing in the vinegar.

Mix in the dried herbs, fresh tomato, carrot and capsicum. Stir through really well before adding the tinned tomatoes, paste and lentils.

Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Season to taste. Serve however suits your family.

new-book-on-sale

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Remembering to press pause

A while back I woke up with a headache, slightly hungover and it was January 1.

Then I blinked, cried as Mr M&P started school and then sneezed and it was April. After a shower and another hangover it was June and two report cards later the year is half way done and I’ve still not hung up my 2012 calendar.

It’s frightening to watch life accelerating away.

Yesterday, we pulled the reigns on the year and packed up the family for a day of adventure. Off early, we were breakfasting by the water by 9.30 and then on a ferry over to Scotland Island for a bush walk. We were back home by 2, energized and happy to have spent some fun time outdoors, together, creating a memory.

There was a waterway, bacon, eggs, coffee and a happy family.

Without meaning to we’ve been too busy and just let the year slip by. Yesterday was a good reminder about how important it is to force life to stop from time to time, to find some quality family moments. It’s true, the kids grow up too fast and it won’t be long until they don’t want to be with us at all, let alone walking along, holding our hands, being so incredibly gorgeous.

So back we go to term 3. Back to routine (sigh) and lunchboxes (sigh sigh). This lunchbox pasta salad recipe is from my Complete Lunchbox Planner – it has a little dose of vitamin C to help you through the rest of winter and it’s also a nice way to break out of the sandwich rut.

Something different for the lunchbox

Citrus pasta salad

375g pasta spirals
½ punnet cherry tomatoes, quartered
200g mild feta, diced
1 carrot, peeled, grated
2-3 tbsp pinenuts, toasted
½ tsp zest of each a lemon & orange
400g tuna in springwater, drained

Dressing
6 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp orange juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp sugar
¼ tsp minced garlic

Cook the pasta according to packet directions.

Place all the dressing ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. Toss cooked pasta with other ingredients and the dressing.

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Divide and conquer with minestrone

Imagine if Australia was as fiercely food-parochial as Italy. Or maybe we are? In the same way that you’ll never get a risotto alla Milanese in Naples, you’ll be hard pressed to find a souvlaki in Sydney and you’d NEVER find a chiko roll in Bondi. Unless you were being cool retro, in which case you’d be having to eat it whilst wearing Le specs, your favourite pair of Okanuis and it would probably we served on a bed of shrimp foam. Hmmmm, ok, it might happen.

Anyway, regional food division is FIERCE in Italy, never more apparent than in their minestrone recipes. For me, being a bit of a bogan Australian, I like a classic winter-time thick soup – a cuddle in a bowl that warms my toes.

Controversy surrounded this soup in my house – both husband and daughter were unimpressed by the addition of cabbage. She thought it ‘gross’, he thought it ‘farty’. Mr M&P loved it all and so did I. So I’m leaving it as an optional ingredient and you can make the judgement call for whatever will suit your household.

Buon appetito!


Minestrone Soup

Olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
150g pancetta, diced
1 large carrot, peeled, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp tomato paste
400g can crushed tomatoes
1 ½ litres vegetable stock
1 zucchini (optional – they’re not great at this time of year)
Handful green beans (again optional, due to seasonality)
¼ small cabbage, sliced thinly (optional – see above)
½ cup peas
400g tin borlotti beans, rinsed, drained
¾ cup soup pasta (like rissoni)

Heat a large pot on medium heat. Add the oil and the onion, fry, stirring regularly for a couple of minutes. Add the pancetta, carrot and celery and continue to soften for 5-6 minutes.

Toss in the garlic for another minute, before adding the paste, tomatoes and stock. Stir well, bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes or so.

Add in the zucchini (if using), cabbage (if using), peas, beans and pasta and cook for another 8-10 minutes until everything is tender and delicious.

Season well with salt & pepper. Scatter over parsley and parmesan and serve with breadrolls.

With all the vegies, this makes enough for 2 adults and 4 kids.

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Rice v. pasta

My first job was waitressing in an Italian restaurant.

The things I remember most about it were never remembering which way the coffee machine dial turned off (no-one ever told me ‘righty-tighty’), the embarrassment of returning to a table where I’d just been to admit that I’d just forgotten what they’d just ordered and one really busy night, after a quick loo break, running through the kitchen back into the restaurant with the back of my skirt tucked into my stockings.

Generally then, it’s safe to say that I was a crap waitress and the whole experience was vaguely traumatising.

For years afterward I didn’t touch pasta. And if I was held at knifepoint and ordered, “you must choose only one main meal carbohydrate for the rest of your life” I would happily marry rice and leave pasta, cous cous and potatoes behind forever.

Perhaps it’s karma then, for all the incorrect orders that I took, that my kids love pasta. I think nearly every kid in the whole wide world does. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if your kid hates the stuff, they are weird. WEIRD.

Nutritionally, there’s nothing in pasta to get excited about. I’ve even seen it called BAD CARBS. Well said. Mind you, white rice falls into that category too so I guess my argument for rice is baseless and quite prejudiced. Did I mention that my kids don’t care about any of that and that they still LOVE PASTA? They do.

And so it’s been sneaking back into the house over the last few years. It’s still only once a fortnight or so, but now even I am a bit partial to a bolognaise or smoked salmon, dill & lemon or this spaghetti carbonara. On the scale of smuggling success, it’s fairly low, there’s little room to hide anything, but I still cram in spring onions and long strips of zucchini which just meld in(to the bacon fat).

It’s worth sharing, as it’s pretty much the only dish I’ve trialed this year that resulted in TWO EMPTY BOWLS, which is my version of THREE HATS, only better, cause there’s nothing to scrape before stacking the dishwasher.

vegie smugglers spaghetti carbonara

The pasta will win tonight.

Spaghetti Carbonara

3 eggs
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
400g spaghetti
2 tbsp olive oil
250g bacon, rind removed, large areas of fat removed, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
6 spring onions, sliced
2 zucchinis – use a peeler to slice into thin pieces, then cut vertically so that you have long spaghetti-like strands (whether you leave the skin in or discard it is up to you and what you need to do to get your kids to eat it).

Whisk the eggs in a small jug, mix through the cheese. Set aside.

Now do two things at once…
1. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and cook spaghetti according to packet directions. Drain, drizzle over half the olive oil and mix through (tongs makes this easier).

2. Heat the rest of the oil in a frying pan, add the bacon and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the spring onions, garlic and zucchini and stir until the zucchini starts to wilt (about 2 minutes).

Return the drained pasta to the saucepan, pour over the vegies and use the tongs to mix a bit, then pour over the egg & cheese mixture. Combine quickly, season and serve, topped with optional parsley, pepper and extra parmesan.

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The parenting F word – frustration

The new VSHQ. A spot for everyone, even the papertoy monsters.

Recently I spent two days up a ladder turning my spare little gimp room into a family office. I lovingly tended every square centimetre with 3 coats of white paint to turn the dark dump into a THING OF BEAUTY that the whole family could share. Each of us had a spot. A desk. A pencil holder. One of those cool, Smiggle 6-colour pens. We all belonged.

The result was so gorgeous that I was quite in love with myself. I wanted to just go into this room and lay on the floor and lick it. It was deliciously schmick and we all moved in.

One week later I discovered that Miss Fruitarian had decided to show Mr Meat & Potatoes the joy of splatter painting. In the new office. She had procured a toothbrush from god-knows-where, dug out her full palette of watercolours and GONE FOR IT on her desk. And since it is HER desk, she didn’t feel the need for any kind of time-wasting preparation materials such as protective newspaper.

I am of course, piecing events together in a CSI fashion, but it seems apparent to me that mid-way through her masterpiece she had second thoughts. So the blood paint trail changed from a fine spray to dollops across the carpet as she made a quick getaway to the back deck. And across the back deck, to the table, where the splatter-fest continued. But at some point, clean up was required, so the large water container was emptied over the railing. Which was possibly a good idea, except that below at that point, was the path, so the now browny-green water was splattered over the railing, down the side of the house and all over the stone pathway.

Now I wouldn’t have discovered this so soon if we hadn’t decided to eat outside that night. Which of course we had to do because all of the dining table chairs were being used to hold up the lounge room cubby, which was full of every single stuffed toy from the two bedrooms upstairs. Plus most of the plastics from my kitchen. Apparently the toys were whipping up dinner.

And did I mention that later that same day, Miss F went on to ‘create’ a kangaroo made from tissues, wading and reused bits of fluff from her end-of-year ‘Cats’ dance costume? Again, in the newly refurbished office.

By the end of the day I was ready to kill. My best friend and I did paper, scissors, rock to work out who got the enviable task of dishes and cleaning the entire kitchen and who was going to be in charge of getting the kids washed, teeth brushed and into bed. I won and spent a delightfully quiet half hour cleaning up all of the breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes….ahhhhhh bliss…

Did you read the Huffington post article about parenting recently? Summed it up nicely, the dichotomy between overwhelming parental love and the tedium and hell of the every day. There is SO much work and slavery and boredom in being a mum that it really does grind you down. I can totally see how various pressure points compete and healthy food gets shoved further down the list in favour of sleep, silence and compliance.

The trick is though, to realise when food is actually the answer to the other problem areas as well. Well fed children, full of nutrients tend to behave better. They have full tummies, steady sugar levels and enough (but not too much) energy. They will play without crashing but sleep well at night. They get sick less often too. So perhaps it’s the times when you’re in your parenting lows that you need to stop, focus and rethink things, find the motivation to take on the food battles and get some healthy food into your little lovelies and see what difference it makes.

But trust me, they still make mess, regardless. It appears no amount of vitamins can stop that – sorry.

Here’s a nutritious dinner that is quick to cook and sneaks in heaps of vegies – even cannellini beans.

Get through to the end of the day, no worries.



Quick pasta bake

250g pasta (shell or penne is good)
1 cup broccoli florets
400g can chopped tomatoes
400ml bottle tomato pasta sauce
400g can cannellini beans, rinsed, drained
½ red capsicum, seeded, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled, grated
125g can corn kernels, drained
Handful of basil or parsley, finely chopped
2 cups grated cheese (cheddar/mozzarella mix is good)

Preheat oven to 200°C. Cook the pasta according to packet directions. Drain and set aside.

Place the broccoli in a microwave-proof dish with a drizzle of water, cover and zap on high for 1 minute or until just tender. Feel free to blitz the broccoli with a stick blender if your kids will pick out bits.

In a large bowl, mix together the pasta and all of the vegies, sauce, beans and herbs. Season with black pepper to taste. Mix through half the cheese. Spoon the pasta mixture into an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake for 20–25 minutes or until golden.

SERVES 2 ADULTS & 3 KIDS
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You might also like to try….
Baked tuna and tomato rice
Lulu’s favourite Tuna pasta bake

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What the kids eat in… Italy

On the surface my kids are coping with moving quite well. They’re saying goodbyes and being philosophical, but I can tell from the way that their behaviour has skewed that the stress of it is taking its toll. They are both quite moody and irritable. Miss F is channelling Veruca Salt with “I want an oompa-loompa” quality turns over the colour of paint for her new bedroom. Mr M&P, who has a tendency to grumpiness, is using moving as a bit of an explain-all over his continuing outbursts.

I’m breathing deeply and understanding that they’re coping with quite a lot of loss.

High on the list of ‘Things we will miss’, are our amazingly fantastic upstairs neighbours. A retired Italian couple, when not flitting overseas they are hosting exuberant lunch parties. As the afternoons wear on and the wine and spirits flow, the Italian gets louder and more jovial and laughter booms out.

What’s not to love about a culture that rains chocolate on children? My kids have quickly learned that if they stand out in the courtyard and smile and wave endearingly, all sorts of goodies get dropped over the balcony. One time I even caught a tissue full of homemade biscuits being lowered down on string.

Italian food is such a seductive cuisine. It’s an easy-fix meal that is quick to cook and usually appeals to everyone. I’ve yet to meet a kid who doesn’t like pasta and you can use it to hide all sorts of good stuff in sauces, layered in lasagnes and tucked into tubes.

And then at the end, you can scoff a cannolli, sip amaretti and then best if you potter off for a bit of a lie down.

Cheese, pasta (and tomatoes, onions, fennel, spinach & carrot). Shhhhh.


Beef cannelloni

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves
500g lean beef mince
1 carrot, peeled, grated
1 cup finely diced fennel
1 cup spinach leaves (silverbeet or English), finely chopped
400g can chopped tomatoes
2 tsp dried Italian herbs
1 cup beef stock
1 tsp sugar
700g bottle tomato passata
250g cannelloni tubes (buy the instant ones that don’t need to be boiled)
125g ricotta cheese
Grated pizza cheese
Salad and garlic bread, to serve

Heat the oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and fry for a few minutes until soft. Add the garlic then the mince, breaking up lumps as you go. When the beef is just browned, add the carrot, fennel and spinach and stir well.

Mix through the tomatoes, herbs and sugar. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer for
15 minutes. Taste and add salt and black pepper. (I LOVE heaps of pepper.)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Choose either individual gratin dishes or one 12–cup lasagne dish.
Pour a thin layer of tomato passata over the bottom of the dish. Use a small spoon to fill the cannelloni tubes with your meat mixture and line them up in the dish. Evenly pour over remaining passata and any leftover meat mixture. Dollop the ricotta about and sprinkle over as much pizza cheese as you like.

Individual portions will need to bake about 20 minutes – a larger dish for 30–35 – until the pasta is soft and the cheese is golden.

Serve with salad and garlic bread.

SERVES 2 ADULTS & 2 KIDS

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