Courgette macaroni cheese

We’ve just got back from our holiday where Bert ate, over the course of two weeks, two family-size packs of crisps, the inside of half a baguette, half a jar of nutella, 14 ice creams, 30 yoghurts and one grain of rice.

I’m trying to get him back on decent carbs and protein before he loses his characteristic sturdiness and the dimples on his knuckles.

He also invented a new card game he called Mojo (the opposite of snap – shout Mojo when the cards don’t match) [me, feeling sure I’ve never said the word ‘mojo’ in my life: where did you get that word from? Bert: blank face], learnt to swim with a float vest on [me: you’re really good at that! Bert: yes I am really good at that], and invented a chilling game with the toy sword that we found in the pool. The latter involves stabbing a person or toy repeatedly, then saying ‘it’s cutting time’ and cutting across their jugular with the bottom of the sword, announcing ‘I’m going to eat you’ and then slicing down the stomach and bending over to eat the entrails. [Me, in a high, tight voice: where did you hear those words? Bert: blank face]. Maybe reincarnation is a fact and Bert was once… a cavalier soldier? A cannibal? A zombie? Or maybe nursery carry out some awfully vivid history sessions.

Anyway, it’s courgette time!

Serves 4

1 courgette, coarsely grated (peeled too, if you’re living with a massive veg avoider)

1 dessert spoon each of butter and olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Macaroni (about 400g for 4 servings)

1 spring mint, leaves finely chopped

Salt and pepper

300g creme fraiche

125g grated mozzerella

60g grated parmesan

Finely grated zest of a lemon

3 tablespoons of breadcrumbs to top

Gently fry the courgette in the butter and oil with the garlic until soft (about ten minutes) while you cook the pasta. Add salt and pepper to taste, and the finely chopped leaves of a spring of mint (I debated this ingredient since Bert can spot a strand of green a mile off, but I figured he eats pesto so I threw it in). Combine with creme fraiche, mozzerrella and half the parmesan and tip into an overproof dish. Top with the breadcrumbs, lemon zest and the rest of the parmesan.

At this point I left it to finish off later.

Pre heat the oven to 180/ gas mark 4. Cook for 10-15 minutes, if cooking straight from prepping it while it’s still warm, or 20-25 if cooking from cold.

We had ours with green beans; whole, boiled veg being less alarming than those drenched in sauce.

After moaning that he didn’t like it, he ate it all.


Penne Giardiniera


This is a Carluccio’s recipe, and I wouldn’t neccessarily have thought of trying it on Bert, but we had lunch there a few months ago and he nicked most of mine so…

It’s also fairly faff-y, particularly the spinach balls, but I’m out of work at the moment and while Bert was at nursery yesterday I spent most of my time colouring in, so let’s just say that time isn’t my most pressing concern currently. But you could always do just the courgette bit, which is really quick. The spinach balls would make a good vege meatball if you served them in tomato sauce, too.

Serves 3

For the spinach balls:

100g spinach, cooked in water for just a couple of minutes, then drained

1/2 a clove of garlic, crushed

1/2 a beaten egg

35g fresh breadcrumbs

Grating of fresh nutmeg, salt and pepper

20-25g grated parmesan

For the pasta:

1 courgette, grated

40g (yes!) of butter

1 and a half garlic cloves, crushed

1/4 teaspoon chili flakes

120g (yes!) grated parmesan

Cooked pasta to your appetite

Squeeze as much water as you can out of the cooked spinach, then keep squeezing till no more comes out. (Weirdly satisfying.) Chop it fairly finely and add it to the other ingredients, then form into walnut-sized balls. I put them in the fridge at this point to firm up. When you’re nearly ready to eat, shallow fry in plenty of olive oil till golden brown – about 5-10 minutes. The more water you’ve squeezed out of your balls – don’t – the firmer and less prone to falling apart they’ll be.

While your pasta is simmering, gently cook the courgette, chili, butter and garlic in a frying pan till the courgette is soft. That takes about 10 minutes, so the amount of time you’re cooking your pasta, more or less. Add to the cooked pasta with most of the cheese (leaving some for the table). The chili really doesn’t make it at all hot – it’s more a flavouring.

Despite the appalled look on his face in the picture, Bert demolished this. I felt briefly filled with a warm glow of smugness. Then I remembered that his dinner on Friday night was a bowl of Rice Krispies and a bag of chocolate buttons.

But I do believe that if you present small children with tasty, nutritious, ‘adult’ food in a no-pressure way (we never insist he tries or finishes anything) and present it all as equally attractive (he doesn’t have to eat veg, and puddings aren’t a treat or a reward, they’re just what comes after dinner if I can be arsed I’ve made one), then they’ll generally eat about 70% of it enthusiastically and ignore the other 30% randomly. If one day they just eat a huge pile of mashed potatoes, who cares?


Avocado, mint and courgette soup

av soup

This is another one for the ‘me not Bert’ section.

Serves 2 (but if Tony doesn’t get into the kitchen in the next five minutes, I’m going back in to finish it off)

2 courgettes, roughly chopped

500ml chicken stock

Pinch of salt

1 avocado, halved and flesh scooped out

1/2 lemon, juice of (use the other half for a G&T when the sun’s past the yard arm) (what  that expression means, beyond ‘reach for the alcohol as soon as is decently possible’, I have no idea)

Leaves from a couple of stalks of mint

Good splash of double cream

This is so easy. Stick the chopped courgette in a pan with the stock and salt, and simmer till tender. Take it off the heat, add the avocado, mint, lemon juice and cream and blend.


Baked pork, courgette and pecorino meatballs


I’m no longer a ‘hidden veg’ believer – I’d rather Bert learned to enjoy them than have to sneak them in. It seems to be the texture that babies and toddlers object to anyway, not the taste – anything crunchy, slimy or containing strands is spurned. Anyway, the veg in this appear to be hidden but that’s because the recipe works out that way, not because I’m hiding them, honestly.

Served 3

300g minced pork

1/2 courette, coarsely grated

A good grating of pecorino – maybe about 30-50g

Salt and pepper to taste

A lot of olive oil – a good 2-3 glugs

1 small onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 carrot, grated

1 stick celery, grated

1 tin of tomatoes

1 dessert spoon tomato puree

A splash of water from the pasta you cook to go with the meatballs

Salt and pepper to taste

1 bunch parsley, chopped

Pasta and grated parmesan to serve

Combine the meat, courgette, percorino and salt and pepper. Form into little balls (walnut sized seems to be the generally accepted measurement), put on a lined baking sheet and cook in a hot oven (about 200 degrees, or the second rung up in the Aga roasting oven) for 12-15 minutes, till they’re starting to brown.

Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil and add the grated carrot and celery. Fry it gently for a good 5-10 minutes – you want it to be melting into the oil. Then add the tomatoes, tomato puree, seasoning (Bert seasoned ours – perfectly actually, thanks Bert) and another splash of oil. Cook for 5-10 minutes, then blend to a puree. Add the cooked meat balls to the sauce and simmer while you cook the pasta.

When the pasta’s done, stir a little of the pasta water through the meatball sauce (this gives it a creamy texture) and add the chopped parsley to the sauce. Serve with your pasta (the sort of pasta shape that holds sauce well) and grated parmesan.

I think Bert has molars coming through at the moment so I don’t anticipate getting much sleep, but at least everyone’s belly is heavy with carbs.

Fragrant lamb tagine


Bert’s dad described this and the nectarine and almond cake as my ‘most competent meal’ in a while. Make of that what you will.

Served 2.5 though could happily have served 3.5

Glug olive oil

1 red onion, sliced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

500g diced lamb

3-4 carrots, chopped into chunks

1 courgette, chopped into chunks

1 tin chopped tomatoes and half the empty tin of boiled water

1 low salt stock cube

1 dessert spoon tomato puree

1 dessert spoon honey

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon tumeric

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch saffron

1/2 stick of cinnamon

Handful of dried apricots (the soft, dark brown ones), chopped

In a perfect world, you’d brown the veg and meat separately and in batches, but I don’t think it makes enough difference to the taste to be worth it, and means the whole prep here takes about 10 minutes. More time to hide remote controls and phones, and fish computer mice and batteries out of the dishwasher.

Brown the onion, garlic and lamb in the oil and then add the rest of the veg. Stir through the spices, apricots, tinned tomatoes, stock cube and water, tomato puree and honey, and season. Bring to a fast simmer then cook in a slow oven for 2-3 hours. (Mine was in the bottom of the Aga for 3 hours.) We had ours with buttered couscous and a dollop of yoghurt. Bert was initially suspicious and then chinned it. He did not eat any courgette.