Back in Cambridge, we used to have a regular vegetable box delivery. It was bizarrely cheering to have a little parcel of mysterious fruits and vegetables appear each week on your doorstep: you had all the fun of discovering what they’d sent you, and of racking your brains to try to figure out what to do with a kohlrabi*, with none of the schlepping heavy bags back from the supermarket. Then we moved to a house with no kitchen*, and remained kitchenless for the best part of six months. As you can imagine, this took its toll on my culinary mojo, and I never quite got around to re-starting the veg box deliveries.
After the most recent move, the veg people out a leaflet through the door which offered all sorts of free goodies if we re-started our deliveries. I looked at Eoin, determinedly munching his way through a pile of cucumber, tomato and avocado, and thought that this might not be the worst idea in the world. Maybe, if we bribe the delivery man, he could by-pass the doorstep and just bring the food straight to the highchair tray?
The box duly arrived, and I set about deciding what to make first. Some brown mushrooms and courgettes immediately looked as if they had “Eoin” written all over them, and, after a bit of pondering, I set about making this not-quite Carbonara for our lunch. Now, Carbonara is generally off-limits for babies due to the use of raw egg in the sauce. It’s also pretty salty, thanks to the guanciale/pancetta/bacon (depending on what’s available where you are). I consulted the Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook, which suggested using mostly mushrooms and single cream to make a baby-friendly version. I was on-board with the mushrooms (they’re pretty much de rigeur in the UK version of a carbonara sauce, and they can be rather good) but I didn’t think single cream was really going to cut it. I happened to have some mascarpone in the fridge, and I thought this would make a richer sauce, as well as providing some valuable calories for Eoin. The courgettes leapt into the pan too, to up the overall amount of vegetable in the dish, but they actually married into it rather well. I swithered over the bacon for a while, but ended up throwing two rashers of smoked streaky in: as Eoin is nearly one, I feel a bit more cavalier about letting him have small amounts of salty foods. If you are worried about salt content, or feeding a younger baby, I suppose you could substitute some leftover cooked chicken, or miss out the meat altogether, but then we really are getting rather far from the realm of the echt Carbonara.
(Serves one adult and one baby, fairly generously)
- A courgette, cut into short sticks.
- 2 rashers streaky bacon, chopped.
- Half a dozen good-sized brown or chestnut mushrooms, sliced.
- A couple of cloves of garlic, crushed.
- Pennette or other small pasta (about 100g).
- 1 large tablespoonful of mascarpone cheese (or more if necessary).
- A handful of grated parmesan
- Black pepper to taste. You may also wish to add a little chopped parsley if you like: it’s rather good, although again we’re getting far away from the standard Carbonara.
Set the pasta to cook in the usual way. It’s pasta: I trust that you know what to do.
Meanwhile, fry the bacon in a little olive oil with the crushed garlic. Add the vegetables, and continue to cook until they have started to colour. Add the mascarpone to sauce and stir through: you may want to add a bit more if the mixture still looks very dry. By this point, the pasta should be cooked: strain it, and add it to the pan. Mix well, so that the pasta is coated in sauce, and add the parmesan. After a final stir, serve. You may find you have to hold the baby back as he tries to clamber out of his highchair and into the plate (or maybe that’s just in our house).
I used pennette here as, being small, they are an easier shape for Eoin to manage. I found, though, that they actually gave the dish a really pleasant texture: I’m not used to eating tiny pasta, but I’d say it’s well worth a try if you can get hold of it.
*Gratin, it turned out, was the way forward. In case you ever find yourself the owner of an errant kohlrabi, get the mandoline out post-haste and turn the oven on.
*It was a bit of a bargain, in Cambridge terms, probably due to the complete lack of facilities: the boiler also rapidly gave up the ghost and some of the electrics blew a few weeks after we moved in. You see: bargain.