There’s nothing wrong with a simple ‘pasta mixed with pesto’ dinner that you can have ready on the table in 10 minutes. Served with a few veggies and some fruit on the side, it can be a healthy, satisfying meal when you need it – fast!
But if the kids refuse the sight of anything else on the plate or request only plain pasta for dinner every night, we’re here to help you gently expand their enjoyment to the point where they’re happy to try a more complex pasta bake.
- 500 g spiral or penne pasta
- 1 cup (200 g) smooth ricotta (from a tub)
- ¼ cup (60 g) basil pesto
- 200 g cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size
- 2 cups (80 g) baby spinach leaves, chopped
- 185 g tin tuna in springwater or olive oil, drained
- 2 cups (240 g) grated cheddar cheese
- green salad, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan-forced).
- Cook the pasta in a large saucepan of boiling water according to the instructions. Drain and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ricotta and pesto.
- Add the pasta, tomato, spinach, tuna and half the grated cheese. Stir to combine.
- Spoon the mixture into an 8-cup capacity baking dish and top with the remaining cheese.
- Bake for 20–30 minutes or until the cheese is golden.
- Serve with a large leafy green salad.
Boost your basics
Using a ‘tasting plate’ approach while sensitively stretching your child’s preference for plainer foods will help to encourage acceptance of more complex flavours and textures.
Shredded leftover roast chicken or good-quality sausages can be substituted for the tuna. If using sausages, you can remove the meat from the sausage casing and sauté it in a frying pan, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Add it in place of the tuna in step 4.
The pasta bake can be made in advance. Place into the baking dish and seal tightly with plastic film. Store in the fridge for up to 24 hours, or in the freezer for up to 2 months, before cooking. Alternatively, any leftover cooked pasta bake can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Gluten/wheat: use gluten- or wheat-free pasta.
Dairy: omit the ricotta and grated cheese and simply stir through the pesto (made without parmesan) with the tuna, onion, spinach and tomato. You won’t need to bake it in the oven if omitting the cheese.
Vegetarian: in place of the tuna, use a 400 g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed, and additional vegetables, such as sautéed mushrooms, steamed broccoli, peas and roast pumpkin or sweet potato.
This is an excerpt from One Handed Cooks: Boosting Your Basics, making the most of every family mealtime from baby to school age. Published by Viking Australia. RRP $39.99.