No. 2 – Pasta

I always feel kind of wistful and start to reminisce for days (ok, decades) gone by at this time of year; the students are lining the streets with their hip clothing, and shiny hair, filling the coffee shops of Ecclesall Road and Broomhill talking in great depth about nothing much at all. The city has come alive again after its restful summer, there’s a shortage of pasta and traffic cones are popping up on car roofs after late nights at the pub. Everything feels energised, fresher, more vibrant somehow.

I LOVED my days as a student in the city, all that time doing not a great deal, 6 hours a week of lectures (that’s a History degree from Sheffield Hallam for you!), loads of trashy TV and out every night. What’s not to love? It was also the first time I was responsible for my own food, and I have fond memories of curries, big bowls of pasta with cheese sauce and, weirdly, crispy pancakes. I had to Google them to see if they still exist, now they’ve disappeared from my food radar. They do… apparently they were nearly axed recently but saved when their fans revolted, http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/business/findus-crispy-pancakes-been-saved-7634162. Obviously, when I was a student, good nutrition wasn’t top of my requirements list when deciding what to eat!

In honour of Sheffield’s students and what they bring to the city (a 2013 report by the University of Sheffield found that International students alone contribute £120 million a year to Sheffield’s economy – a staggering figure), I thought I’d dedicate this blog post to the student favourite that is pasta.

And it’s not just students, the whole of the UK loves pasta! It’s versatile, cheap, quick, easy to make, filling, and kids generally love it too, making it a staple meal for many time pressed parents, me included. There’s a huge variety of types available, about 600 worldwide, and my kids have been known to have a shouting match on the pasta aisle when choosing which shaped pasta they’d like – bows or twists. Hoping that’s not only happened to me?

Sorry if this disappoints you, but I’ve never made my own pasta. I have a romanticised image in my head, of me kneading some pasta dough and running it smoothly through a shiny pasta machine, producing perfectly uniform sheets of pasta to lovingly cook for my family. I know the reality would be very different however. I’d have flour all over the kitchen, my middle child would announce he needs the toilet just as I’m trying to shove the dough into the machine, and I’d end up rocking in the corner clutching a glass of wine. You with me? BUT, I heard about a pasta recipe that Jamie Oliver included in his current TV series, Jamies Super Food which involves only 2 ingredients (flour and spinach) no kneading and no pasta machine http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/pasta-recipes/spinach-pici-pasta/ Sounds awesome, right? Plus, it’s a sneaky way of getting spinach into your kids, which is a great source of iron and vitamin K, essential for building strong bones in growing kids.

Inspired, I dragged the middle child away from saving Adventure Bay with Ryder and the gang, and we set to work. Making the dough was super easy, spinach and flour into the food processor, blitz until a green dough forms and it’s done. Bit of rolling and ta-da! I can now say that I’ve made pasta, from scratch, with my 3 year old. Major mum achievement right there!

Rolling, rolling, rolling….

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“It’s like we are making green worms, Mum!”

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Now, lets talk sauce! My kids would happily chow down on pasta and pesto or macaroni cheese all day long. I try to up the nutrition where I can by adding in brocolli and frozen peas for the last few minutes of cooking time for the pasta, or serving with leftover roasted vegetables and sweet cherry tomatoes. Annoyingly, the most tempting and delicious pasta sauces are often loaded with butter or cream, or both, so are not the lightest or best choice, nutritionally speaking.

My favourite healthy and super nutritious sauce to make for pasta, tastes like a decadent lemony carbonara but has no cream or butter, and is based on another vegetable I struggle to get my kids to eat, good old cauliflower.

Niki Segnit writes in my new favourite food related book, The Flavour Thesaurus, “Cauliflower is brocolli that can’t be bothered. Where its dark green cruciferous cousin is frisky, iron-deep and complex, cauliflower is keener on the quiet life, snug under its blanket of cheese”, which sums up the essence of this dish perfectly!

The cauli creates a luxurious but light and creamy sauce, and the nutritional yeast (I get mine at a health food shop) gives a deliciously cheesy flavour and added B vitamins. The sauce is vegan, and if you are avoiding wheat so regular pasta is a no no, then the sauce is equally delicious over roasted vegetables or stirred into rice. It’s really simple to make so great to get the kids involved in, and what kid doesn’t love blitzing stuff in a food processor? Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamins C, K and B6, and provides dietary fibre, omega 3 fatty acids and a host of minerals too. It’s a world away from a jar of Dolmio!

Cauliflowercarbonara‘ – makes lots of sauce, enough for 4 portions of pasta

Prep time: 15 mins

Cooking time: 15 mins

Ingredients

  • 1 medium cauliflower
  • Teaspoon of olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 125ml unsweetened Almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast
  • Juice of a lemon
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of onion powder
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Cut the cauli into florets and cook in boiling water for 5-7 mins until soft, then drain and leave to cool
  2. Add the oil to a frying pan with the garlic and fry gently until soft but not burned
  3. Add the cauli, garlic, milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice and seasonings to a blender and blitz until silky smooth
  4. Voila, it’s ready to smother your pasta of choice!

I like to add a generous few handfuls of spinach into the sauce as it’s warming through for an extra nutritional boost. Sundried tomatoes are also really good here, or meat eaters may like pieces of crispy bacon to be sprinkled across the top. Obviously, a soft boiled egg plonked on the top would be divine!

My other fave pasta sauce gets its creaminess from avocado. All you need to create this sumptuous green delight are avocados, fresh basil, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil, and there’s no cooking involved, just a blitz in the food processor and the gorgeousness that is this sauce is ready. It’s super healthy with good fats from the potassium rich avocado, fresh herbs and zingy lemon juice. The kids love this sauce with cherry tomatoes, peas and sweetcorn and stirred through wholemeal spaghetti. I love the sauce spooned straight out of the food processor into my greedy mouth! It’s ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta, even if you get the quick cook stuff, so ideal for week night ‘what can I get on the table in 15 minutes’ days. That’s every day in my house.

Got any favourite pasta sauces that you like to make? Tell me about them below. I’m always looking to jazz up teatime!

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