As I shared with you guys last week, I got the opportunity to compete in a Foodie vs. Mommy Blogger challenge at the Kenmore Live Studio in Chicago. Each team member had a vegetable assigned to them and the challenge was to create a dish that would be healthy and embraced by children.
“Bring on the challenge,” I thought to myself. After all, I am the mom that has exposed her children to every kind of ingredient imaginable and I was ready to showcase my food expertise to the world. Then they gave me the assignment.
As a main dish.
And then I thought, to put it as eloquently as I can…, “CRAP!”
I have never made cauliflower for my kids before because it just isn’t my favorite vegetable. To me, the flavor of cauliflower is a bland one meant to be layered with luscious cheese and as an accompaniment to something more delicious. To say that I was sweating it out, would be putting it mildly. As with all great challenges though, I decided that I would do the best I could and make a fun dish that kids would love.
It has been my experience that any dish that I am unsure that my kids will love is best served with lots of bread and olive for dipping to convince my children to give it a try. For my husband, a tall glass of wine seems to work wonders.
Trees in Your Ears Pasta was the dish that I pulled together for the challenge. I used orecchiette pasta which means, “little ears” and the trees, of course, were the cauliflower florets. I thought with a fun title like that, what kid could resist?
Begin by bringing a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook your pasta as directed. Be sure to reserve 1 cup of pasta water for later!
On a cookie sheet, spread out cauliflower florets and whole tomatoes. Toss with olive oil, salt, & pepper.
In your food processor (or mince & chop by hand), chop garlic, prosciutto, and fresh sage.
Pull out the roasted vegetables and toss the meat & herb mixture and coat the vegetables evenly.
In a large pasta bowl, add arugula pasta to the bottom. Pour drained hot pasta on top of the arugula to wilt it. Finish by adding the roasted vegetables, Parmesan cheese and up to 1 cup of pasta water.
Toss, toss, toss. Eat, eat, eat.
The real question is did this win against the foodie team? It actually did! I was so proud and excited that I literally was jumping up and down when all three judges selected this dish as the cauliflower winner. Although the mommy team didn’t win the overall challenge, I was still so proud to know that a vegetable that we never eat could be turned into a dish that I plan to make over and over again. It was loved by everyone and only one family member wasn’t converted to the cauliflower dark side, although he loved the rest of the vegetables a lot. I am not discouraged though and this challenge helped me see the beauty in stepping out of the creature comforts of our standard side dish and main dish fare.
Use this recipe as a template for anything that you have in your pantry and fridge. Hit the farmer’s market and find a new vegetable you have never tried, use up the end of that lone box of penne in the back of the cupboard, try spinach tossing instead of arugula, use up the last of those herbs in your garden, and see what fun dish you can create using this basic idea.
Thank you to everyone who came to see the show and all of the love and hugs from all of my wonderful friends. It was such an honor to have so many of you there and I was so proud to have had the opportunity to showcase that this momma really can cook! Many thanks to my fantastically talented friend, Franz from Le Cordon Bleu, who helped me look like a rock star for this event! Most of all, thank you to my kids who are a constant inspiration to me and always surprise me with their sophisticated palettes.
Trees in Your Ears Pasta
One head cauliflower, cored and cut into 3/4-inch florets (3-1/2 cups)
1 pint grape tomatoes
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
9 large fresh sage leaves
4 large cloves garlic, peeled
6 thin slices prosciutto (about 4 oz.)
12 oz. dried orecchiette
5 oz. baby arugula (5 lightly packed cups)
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Toss the cauliflower, tomatoes, oil, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper on a rimmed baking sheet; spread in a single layer. Roast, stirring once or twice, until the cauliflower begins to turn golden and tender, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, pulse the sage and garlic in a food processor until minced. Add the prosciutto and pulse until coarsely chopped. Once the cauliflower is golden, toss the herb mixture into the vegetables and continue to roast until fragrant and the cauliflower is golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Boil the orecchiette until al dente, 9 to 10 minutes. Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking water. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Stir in the roasted cauliflower mixture, arugula, cheese, and enough pasta water to moisten. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Do you have any tricks or recipes for getting your children to eat their vegetables? Please share!