Friday, 31 January 2014

Veggies in disguise: a useful sauce and speedy pizza muffins

I am in the lucky position that my son is a 'good eater'. He will try anything and everything and generally approaches most foods with great gusto. I am regularly astonished by how much he eats! He is, however, also a toddler. This means that he is prone to moments of inexplicable rage if the proposed meal isn't quite to his liking. A couple of days ago I dared to serve him yoghurt rather than fruit after his beef casserole. Big mistake (cue sudden screaming, leg kicking and general melodrama). In the end, he ate both fruit and yoghurt. Yesterday he was horrified when I suggested he might like a banana (after I had peeled it, of course) but was happy to wolf it down once I had mashed it up. One day, scrambled egg is the best food in the world; another day it is greeted with disdain. 

Vegetables are hit and miss, as with many youngsters. Carrots, peas, red cabbage and broad beans are currently in favour. Broccoli, mushrooms and parsnips are not (strange as these were all favourites when weaning). I always try to include extra vegetables in any dish that I cook for him in order to get as much goodness into him as possible. You could call it deception. I call it 'what normal mothers do'. One of the most useful things I have in my freezer at any time is a box of frozen cubes of homemade tomato and basil sauce. This sauce is packed full of 'hidden' vegetables and is handy for creating all kinds of delicious dishes. My boy will eat almost anything if accompanied by/covered in/spread with this sauce. I vary the hidden vegetables according to what I find in the veg drawer but it usually includes a carrot, celery and onion base. I usually add courgette and red, orange or yellow pepper. Sometimes a mushroom or two. After slow simmering and the addition of something creamy (mascarpone, cream cheese or crème fraîche) to temper the acidity of the tomatoes, I blitz the sauce with a hand blender and all suspicious-looking lumps disappear into a delicious and smooth sauce. 

I freeze the sauce in an ice cube tray or two before popping the cubes out into a re-sealable freezer bag. I them simply defrost the number of cubes required. Ideas for using the sauce are as follows:

- a simple pasta sauce topped with a sprinkling of grated cheese
- a healthier ketchup substitute - great for dipping strips of chicken, fish fingers etc...
- stirred into roasted vegetables with chicken and couscous
- add tinned tuna for a tuna pasta sauce
- spoon over cod and bake in the oven
- the base for hidden vegetable pizzas (as below)

Pizza with 'hidden' courgettes, red peppers, celery and carrots

Here is my recipe for this indispensable sauce, along with a simple serving idea. Mini muffin pizzas are a great speedy teatime dish for babies and children of all ages. Cut into tiny wedges, this could be a good idea for baby-led-weaners as well as a great finger food for traditionally-weaned babies. The idea came from Annabel Karmel. She goes further and decorates the pizzas with smiley faces - this would be fun for older children to try themselves. I first gave these to my son when he was approximately 9 months old. If you wanted to be super-healthy, you should choose wholemeal muffins. 

Very useful tomato and basil sauce
Makes 4 adult portions


1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, diced
1 stick celery, thinly sliced
1/2 red, orange or yellow pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small courgette, grated
400g tin tomatoes (keep the tin)
1/2 low salt vegetable or chicken stock cube (optional)
handful basil, roughly torn
2 tbsp mascarpone, cream cheese or crème fraîche

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Sweat the onion, carrot, celery and pepper until starting to soften.

2. Add garlic and cook for a minute. Add the grated courgette and stir together. Add the tomatoes and fill the tin halfway with water (or stock, if you prefer). Add half the basil and season with a little pepper. Simmer gently for 20 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining basil and mascarpone/cream cheese. Leave to cool for a little while before blending to a smooth sauce using a hand-held blender or liquidiser.

Pizza muffins
Adapted from Annabel Karmel
Makes 2 mini pizzas


1 split English muffin
4 tbsp useful tomato and basil sauce (see above)
Grated cheese of choice, or torn mozzarella

1. Toast the muffins.
2. Spread with a layer of the sauce and top with cheese.
3. Grill until golden and bubbling.
4. Cut into small wedges and serve.

I had been planning to enter this to this month's Family Foodies blogging challenge at Bangers and Mash. The theme was 'Hidden Goodies' but unfortunately I have been a little disorganised and missed the deadline. If you are interested in cunning ways to sneak fruit and vegetables into your little foodies, then do take a look at the brilliant collection of recipes that were submitted on time!

1 comment:

  1. I always think adding hidden vegetables into toddlers foods is a great way to get them to eat healthily without them knowing. The sauce is a great base and the pizza muffins look wonderful.


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