Let’s get the kids to eat their broccoli. You can make this with meat but because our son is a vegetarian I have a number of veggie options to dress it up.
- 1 pound broccoli
- 1/2 medium onion, minced
- Several tablespoons of olive oil, as needed
- 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter, as needed
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic – or less depending on how it affects the aroma of your kids
- 1/2 pound veggie sausage/bacon/nut loaf/firm teriyaki flavored tofu – your preference, chopped
- 1 pound pasta – penne, farfalle, ziti, whatever
- Black pepper or other spice. I like a low-sodium option like Ms. Dash
- 1/2 cup grated cheese. I like a nice Mexican four cheese blend
- Trim the broccoli and cut it into bite-size pieces, it’s not necessary to make it too tiny. I also like to slice the stems into centimeter thick slices. All of this is going to be boiled and mashed into a sauce so it doesn’t have to be pretty.
- Add a good amount of salt to a large pot of water and bring it to a boil.
- Put a tablespoon of butter and a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. I used to use olive oil exclusively but we prefer the flavor when you use mostly butter – one guess as to why.
- When the skillet is hot add the garlic, onion, and veggie sausage/tofu/etc. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is well heated and the sausage/tofu stuff is browned. When it’s done remove it from the skillet and turn off the heat.
- Start checking the broccoli after five minutes. You want it tender but not mushy. Depending on how much you use (and your altitude) it will probably take between five and ten minutes. When it’s done take it off the heat and use a small strainer or slotted spoon to scoop the broccoli out and transfer it to the skillet.
- Once you have as much of the broccoli as you can get out of the pot get the water boiling again and start the pasta cooking. You want the pasta reasonably firm and not mushy – what’s commonly referred to as al dente. Start checking it after five minutes. You’re going to have to stir it quite a bit later and you don’t want it to dissolve into a paste.
- Put the skillet back on medium-low heat with another tablespoon of butter and a little more oil and cook the broccoli mashing it as you stir. You can also add a tablespoon or two of the boiling water to keep it moist and help it to mash. It should end up as an interesting thick green brocco-paste. When you like the consistency add the veggie sausage/tofu mixture to the broccoli and work it all together. You can also add the pepper/spices at this point – not too much so you don’t overpower the kids’ sensitive palates. You can add more spice to yours later – a little chipotle Tabasco is nice.
Side Note: As a seasoning alternative I sometimes use 1/4 cup roasted red pepper and tomato soup. This helps to keep it moist and adds a nice tomatoey sweetness to the flavor.
- When the pasta is done strain it and put it into a big bowl with another tablespoon of butter or a little olive oil and give it a good stir. Add some of the grated cheese and the broccoli mixture and continue stirring it so that the broccoli covers the pasta as a kind of creamy sauce. I don’t skimp on the cheese because kids love cheese.
Another Side Note: The original recipes I found for this called for Parmesan or Reggiano (aka fancy Parmesan). This is quite tasty with those cheeses but I’ve found that kids prefer the old Kraft four cheese blends. Think of it this way, you could make a grilled cheese sandwich with Parmesan but you don’t, do you?
- As a finishing touch you can sprinkle a little more cheese on top to make it plain to the kids that This Meal Involves Cheese. It will help to sell the broccoli, which no longer resembles broccoli so much as a St. Patrick’s Day themed pasta dish.
Beyond this you could get fancy and bake it a little with some breadcrumbs sprinkled on top with the cheese to give it a crunchy shell but who really has time for that? Hopefully you knocked this together in less than 30 minutes so slap it on a plate and call it done.
My wife, Merran, would also like to remind everyone (me) that this should be served with a salad and some good bread, perhaps some soup as a starter – because dinner apparently involves preparing more than just one thing.