Photos and Words from Elizabeth Miller of the awesome Savory Salty Sweet Blog.
Not all children eschew the majority of foods placed before them, and not all children devour every single item of food placed before them. My son, aged 6.75, seems to fall somewhere in between the two poles of satisfaction/dissatisfaction, in that he will eat a rather random selection of vegetables, but only if they are prepared a certain way, and he will eat a small scattering of ethnic foods, but only if they conform to his mysterious list of acceptable attributes. Also, the list of foods he will eat seems to be shrinking, since while he once loved hummus, baba ganoush, fresh peas, green beans, and all variety of squash, now those foods all fall under the banner of “don’t like it.”
Strangely, the one food my son will always, without fail, say yes to is pasta with pesto. Because the dish is bright green and includes raw garlic, one would not automatically assume that children would be drawn to it, but I have yet to meet a child who will say no to pesto. The trouble is, I want to say no to pesto. At the risk of sounding too much like my picky child, I’ve just had it with the boring predictability of pesto. Alas, what’s a parent to do when faced with such a dilemma?
Again, much like a child is prone to do, I turn to deception when presented with a mild challenge. Technically speaking, when I present something I call “pesto” these days, I am not being entirely duplicitous, since the sauce I am making is still a combination of basic ingredients crushed (or, in this case, blended) together with garlic, olive oil, and nuts. It’s the rest of pesto’s identity that gets thrown for a loop, however, when I swap in hearty greens in lieu basil, a solid dose of lemon zest for a bit of a kick, and a handful of fresh mint and nutty Pecorino Romano cheese for a twist on the familiar. The greens I use depend largely on what I happen to have on hand—sometimes I use spinach and arugula, sometimes I use collard greens—but, interestingly, they all happen to be leafy greens that my son rejects when presented in non-pesto form. I am telling you, you can hide anything in here. A friend recently sent me a wonderful looking recipe for carrot top pesto that I am dying to try out. Until I can give it a whirl, I’ll stick with my basic recipe for non-basic pesto, a sauce I make in one large batch that can dress two separate batches of pasta, because when your kid likes something this much, you’re going to want a lot of it around.
4 cups lightly packed greens (you can use spinach, arugula, collard greens, turnip greens, or, yes, even plain old basil)
1 cup lightly packed Italian parsley leaves
½ cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves
2 large cloves of garlic
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup lightly toasted almond slices or slivers
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
In a blender or food processor, combine leafy greens, parsley, mint, garlic, and olive oil. Process for a few seconds, until leaves are chopped and mixture starts to whirl together. Add lemon zest, almonds, cheese, and process until ingredients are uniformly combined. Add salt and pepper, pulse to combine, and taste to see if you’d like more of either.