The ‘disguise vegetables so you can trick children into eating them’ thing is something I’ve always disliked slightly. The notion of abstracting an ingredient beyond recognition strikes me as a short-termist solution that seems bound to put a load of issues around vegetables in the post for later life, in that it further puffs up the message that Vegetables Are Inherently Bad, though understand, I’m certainly not passing judgement on any parent willing to try anything to introduce something that isn’t a chicken nugget into their child’s diet. Better, I think, to try and involve your children in the preparation of food to as great a degree as possible and, sooner or later, their curiosity is bound to override any sense of caution or disgust. Easily said though. Easily said.
Despite all that, this is a recipe that, without particularly meaning to, does disguise a vegetable beyond recognition, reducing firm courgettes and garlic slowly to a pasty sauce which will coat the strands of spaghetti appealingly and deliciously.
Feel free to use whatever pasta of whatever kind you have to hand, though I feel, sticky as the sauce is, spaghetti is a useful shape here, and the flavours marry very well with the earthiness of the wholewheat.
If you have any soft herbs like mint, parsley, basil or even dill, roughly chop them and toss them in the pasta before serving.
This recipe is easily veganised by substituting the butter for some kind of oil (and leaving out the parmesan.) I’d probably plump for a nice, non-greasy olive oil (not extra virgin), considering the amount of it you’re likely to use.
This recipe suits four people with a salad, but scale up or down as you wish.
You will need:
- One very large or two medium courgettes, cut into quarters longways, then sliced fairly thinly
- Three plump cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat of a knife, then roughly chopped
- Plenty of unsalted butter
- Wholewheat Spaghetti (we use 80g per person, but I know people feel very strongly about how much pasta is in their bowl, so do whatever you normally do)
- To Serve: finely grated parmesan (or any other Italian hard cheese) and extra virgin olive oil
Put a large pan on a medium heat and, in a separate, deep pan, boil plenty of salted water, and keep warm, ready for the pasta.
Put a generous slice of butter, a good centimetre, into your dry pan, til it sizzles and forms big, appealing bubbles, and begins to smell slightly nutty. Add the courgettes and garlic to the butter, give them a stir and leave them pretty much alone, bar the odd turn and stir every few minutes, for about 30-40 minutes.
The courgettes will begin to soften and brown. After 20 minutes or so, they should begin to become easily crushable with the back of a wooden spoon. Keep cooking, adding more butter if the pan looks dry. You really want them to break down to a fibrous sauce, losing all their structure.
Ten minutes before the end, add your pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the packet instructions (probably something like 8 minutes). Occasionally, add a spoonful of starchy pasta water to the courgette sauce to loosen it a little. You don’t want it to be sloppy, but neither do you want it to be dry. Like a very thick béchamel, it should be capable of supporting itself, but not stiff. Give the sauce a good seasoning of salt and pepper, and taste to check.
Drain the pasta, retaining some of the water by putting your cooking pan immediately beneath the colander to catch any run-off. Toss the pasta well in the sauce, adding a little of the saved cooking water to help every strand of spaghetti receive a nice even coating of the sauce.
Serve in your favourite pasta bowls, topped with a generous grating of parmesan and a good slug of extra virgin olive oil alongside the most simple green salad you can throw together whilst the pasta boils.
This is not a beautiful looking meal but, thankfully, it is a beautiful tasting one that, if you’re like me, you’ll make again and again.
If I wasn’t cooking for children, I might add a good pinch of chilli flakes at the beginning of cooking. Give it a go.