On the weekends growing up there was no better lunch for my mom than boxed mac n cheese. And us kids weren’t complaining! I can even remember how my mom would stand at the stove and scrape those last few little pastas into her mouth with a spoon.
I do love any kind of pasta with a cheese sauce, but I don’t want to serve my daughter something with so much salt, added color and goodness-knows-what-else that typically comes in the boxed variety.
So as I was peering into my fridge last week I decided to add pureed sweet potato as part of a bechamel sauce over pasta for my little lady. The dish turned out so good I decided to have a bowl right alongside my daughter. And in the end, we were both savoring the last spoonfuls of mac n cheese together.
What’s great about a dish like this is that you can really add and subtract according to your tastes. Instead of pureed sweet potato, you can insert butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin or spinach. It’s an easy, sneaky way to add a little more veggies into your life and also add additional creaminess to the sauce.
I also love the bright orange color that the pureed sweet potato turned the cheese sauce, without any “fake stuff.”
1/2 lb mini shells, tubetini or elbow macaroni
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup pureed sweet potato
1/4 cup greek yogurt
1/2 cup shredded cheddar or gruyere cheese
1/4 tsp nutmeg
reserved pasta cooking water
salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook as directed, around 8-9 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt 1 Tbsp butter in medium saucepan over low-medium heat. When butter is foamy and almost completely melted, add 1 Tbsp flour and whisk around 2 minutes, to ensure the flour is cooked. Add milk, yogurt and sweet potato puree one at a time, whisking in between to ensure mixture is smooth.
Add 2-3 Tbsp of pasta cooking water and whisk some more.
Add cheese and whisk until completely melted and sauce is smooth once again.
At this point you can leave the sauce as is, or add a few more Tbsp of the pasta cooking water depending on how thick you prefer your mac 'n cheese.
Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.
Drain pasta and add pasta to cheese sauce. Mix together and serve.
When my daughter was around 3 months old I started reading up on recipes for baby food and preparing to introduce solids, even though it was months away. Listening to me obsess over pureed sweet potatoes and mashed avocado, my husband finally asked, why are you in a rush for her to eat?! Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what was guiding my hyper-focused interest in feeding her.
But when she was 5 months old she sort of took matters into her own hands, quite literally. While I munched on a slice of apple one evening, she grabbed my hand, pulled it to her face and started sucking on the apple. I watched in happy awe as she continued to chomp on the apple slice, sucking the juice out of every last bit. And so a tiny foodie was born.
Since then we have introduced new foods little by little. And each time she tries something new – oranges, scrambled egg, pumpkin, or applesauce – I watch delighting in her curiosity and exploration of tastes and textures. We have discovered she loves slurping the broth from chicken soup (obviously…she is Jewish!) and doesn’t care for mashed peas. And above all else she prefers picking up her own food and feeding herself, which might be one of the cutest sights on earth.
Upon reflection it isn’t a surprise that someone (me) who spends so much time thinking about food would be excited to explore food with their new child. It’s common knowledge that food is love and I like to think that for Jews this is even more so. Am I now a typical “Jewish mom” – feeding as a sign of my love and overbearing-ness?! Regardless, it continues to be a new delight every day when we see what she’ll eat and enjoy next.
One of her favorite combinations is roasted parsnips, carrots and pumpkin. What’s great about this puree is that it is easy baby food – but it is also great as a side dish for adults. Leave out the salt until the end and then you have a dish for kids and adults. I like serving a puree like this along side sliced turkey breast or brisket. You can also use a base like this for soup – just add vegetable broth, a touch of cream and you have a healthful lunch or dinner.
Happy cooking and happy feeding!
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 kabocha squash or sugar pumpkin
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
pinch of nutmeg
1-2 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Grease a baking sheet. Place chopped carrots and parsnips on sheet. Drizzle with 1-2 scant tsps olive oil. Sprinkle cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg on top.
Place squash or pumpkin on a baking sheet.
Roast the carrots and parsnips for 45-55 minutes. Roast squash or pumpkin for 55-60 minutes, or until you are able to scoop out flesh easily. Allow squash or pumpkin to cool for 20 minutes before removing the flesh.
In a food process fitted with a blade, puree parsnips, carrots and pumpkin until desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.