Veg-enriched tomato sauce with pasta

IMG_5424.JPG

It’s Spring in Canada and I’ve started picking from my garden. Mostly I’m getting asparagus but I’ve also got fresh herbs. I’ll do a post about asparagus soon but tonight I managed to sneak a new vegetable into my picky eater – and that’s always worth sharing!

Tomato sauce isn’t always a hit with my son. He doesn’t like it chunky or with too many herbs. He doesn’t like to see the onions but if they’re chopped small and we’re at a restaurant, he may just ignore them. That’s a huge step for him but he might be doing it just to get more white bread or gelato after his dinner. I still consider it a win.

At home, I usually chop the vegetables that he doesn’t like in big pieces so it’s easy for him to find them and pick them out. There have been times when an onion accidentally made it into his mouth and he wouldn’t eat any more dinner as a result. So I know with my family it is not a good idea to hide vegetables.

IMG_5422

Until tonight. I was making a tomato sauce and we had some nice mushrooms, peppers and the canned tomatoes were diced. I knew I’d have to puree them to make a sauce my son would eat so I decided to puree the whole lot together.

I will often puree red peppers in the tomato sauce – it makes for a really great, sweet sauce that the kids love. If you have picky kids, give it a try. Sweet peppers are a great source of Vitamin C and other nutrients and they make an excellent addition to a tomato sauce.

For this sauce, I fried up garlic in olive oil, added chopped red pepper and mushrooms. After a few minutes, I added the can of chopped tomatoes and pureed the mix. Then I let it simmer. I added a few sprigs of fresh rosemary from the garden for flavour.

I had a few asparagus from the garden so I chopped them small and added them to the sauce as it simmered. I didn’t want to puree them since we love asparagus. And that’s it. It made for a delicious sauce and I managed to get my son to eat mushrooms happily for the first time!

IMG_5423

The sauce is served on whole wheat pasta with chopped basil (from the garden) and a mix of hemp seeds, nutritional yeast and salt for a savoury topping. And as you can see, it was served with store-bought bread because I can’t always bake my own bread.

The protein question

I’ve recently been asked about protein. How do I get my protein if I don’t eat animals? Well, it’s not really something I worry about since I eat a good variety of whole foods. Protein is made up of amino acids. Whole proteins are made of all the amino acids our body’s can’t make themselves – essential amino acids. These are found in animal meat. But our bodies have to break them down to use them anyway so there is no advantage to getting our essential amino acids all together.

Vegetables are also full of amino acids but they don’t have them in same combination that we need. But as long as you’re eating a variety – and in this meal we have mushrooms, peppers, whole wheat, hemp seeds and other plant-based sources of amino acids – we’re getting everything we need.

And as I said above, since our bodies need to break them down anyway, there’s really no difference between getting them all in one place or getting them in a variety of places. If you’re getting your protein from a variety of vegetable sources, you’re also getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs too.

So there you go – as long as you’re indulging in a variety of plant-based foods, you’ll get the protein you need.

IMG_5425.JPG

We finished this meal with homemade ice cream made from coconut milk and cashew cream. And that was another great source of protein. The vegan chocolate chips and marshmallows – those were just treats. The bananas just happen to be healthy treats.

Orzo with roasted brussels sprouts, broccoli and romano beans

If you’ve never roasted your greens, you’re missing out. In a high heat oven for just a few minutes, vegetables transform from something you know you should eat, to something that must be dished out exactly evenly to avoid family squabbles over who got more brussels sprouts and broccoli. It’s true.

And it couldn’t be easier. I’ll explain how I made this dinner in less than 30 minutes to prove it.

orzo and vegetables
Orzo with roasted vegetables, romano beans, pine nuts and olives.

I preheated the oven to 400 and pulled the brussels sprouts from the fridge. These guys came from the farm and had been in the fridge for longer than they should have. They needed to be very carefully cleaned and picked over to get rid of any yellowed leaves and a few of them had worms so I tossed those ones. The rest were trimmed with the outer leaves removed. Inside were perfect little sprouts.

This was more time consuming than it would have been had I gotten to them last week when I first brought them home from the farm. As I trimmed them, I tossed them on a roasting pan that was liberally coated with olive oil. Then I trimmed the broccoli into bite-sized pieces. I peeled a clove of garlic and tossed it in the olive oil too and made sure the veggies were all evenly coated with oil. When you’re cooking for kids, it’s important not to skimp on the fats – at least, that’s the excuse I use.

By the time the veggies were trimmed, the oven was hot. So I tossed them into the oven. I had 20 minutes until I needed dinner on the table.

Orzo bowl

I put a large pot of water on the stove to boil to make the orzo.

Next came the beans. I peeled another clove of garlic and put a pot on the stove over medium heat with some olive oil. I crushed the garlic into the oil and opened the cans of beans. Draining the beans and rinsing them first, I tossed them into the pot when the garlic was browned (but not burnt) and added about a quarter cup of broth. Let that simmer.

Time to add the orzo. It’s about 10 minutes until dinner time. Perfect. That’s how long the orzo needs to cook.

Stir the roasting vegetables so they’re evenly cooked. I grabbed some pine nuts from the freezer (they go rancid quickly so it’s best to keep them fresh in the freezer) and tossed a handful into the veggie mix when they had about a minute left of roasting to do.

The garlic clove was a big one so I didn’t think it would be done at the same time as the other vegetables. I poured about 1/4 cup of olive oil into a ramekin for the garlic to stick it back in the oven when I took the vegetables out. It was in there for an extra 5 minutes because it was a huge clove.

Orzo, vegetables and beans

When the orzo was done, I drained it and added a bit of olive oil to keep it from clumping together. I dished it out into the bowls and topped them with the veggies and pine nuts, beans and a couple olives. Voila! Super easy and quick. I grabbed the straggling garlic clove from the oven and crushed it into the oil with a fork to add to the adults’ portions. Yum!

It had been a while since we’d had pine nuts so I didn’t know how they would go over with the kids – plus some of them were a little browner than others… my son gave them a thumbs up initially. But both kids tired of the taste of the pine nuts by the end of the meal. Crazy!

I would argue that roasting vegetables is easier than steaming or boiling them. It requires the same amount of chopping but the difference is that you toss them in oil and seasonings and go about your business without having to worry about them while you prepare the rest of the meal. Their sugars slowly caramelize and their flavours intensify while they cook. Anything that can be steamed or boiled is much better roasted, in my opinion.