It’s a common misconception. Everyone thinks that since I’m a cookbook author, my family must eat fabulous, home-cooked, gourmet meals every single night. The truth is, while I try to cook a “proper” meal at least several nights a week, as the parent of a toddler (a picky eater by definition), I’m faced with the same sticky wickets as anyone who is responsible for feeding a tiny tot on a daily basis. “Frustrating” doesn’t even begin to describe the issues that arise when the regulars at your dinner table include a person under the age of four, even one like my son who is, relatively speaking, a pretty good eater.
More often than I care to admit, we end up eating “kid food”—store-bought chicken sausages, simple roasted chicken or baked fish, boring pasta with pesto (possibly my son’s favorite food). Sometimes, I must confess, we even eat TJ’s frozen breaded cod fillets (I mean, we cook them first. We’re not insane!) simply because I cannot face another evening of heart-felt dinner prep only to be met with outright rejection when the plate hits the table. But those dinners that come straight from the supermarket freezer leave me racked with guilt, so I feel compelled to redouble my efforts to offer the kid a variety of interesting foods.
The thing is, when my son tries something new, more often than not he likes it—recent surprise successes have included sautéed squid with fava beans and chard; farfalle with anchovies, garlic, broccoli, and chiles; and chopped liver on toast—but the trick is getting him to take that first bite. So I love to find dishes that are familiar enough that he is willing to try them without a ton of cajoling, but interesting enough to provide him—and us—with varied taste experiences. This recipe, which comes straight from the pages of The Lazy Gourmet, offers familiar textures and flavors (pasta! tomatoes!) that appeal to kids, but is sophisticated and healthy enough to appeal to the adults in my family, too.
Roasting the cauliflower with red onions and garlic brings out the sweet, earthy flavors, and the buttery toasted breadcrumbs add a welcome crunch. Prep is a breeze—you can prepare the rest of the dish while the vegetables are in the oven. Breadcrumbs can be toasted ahead and stored, in an airtight container, in the fridge or freezer. When ready to use, let sit out on the counter until warmed to room temperature.
- 1 head cauliflower (about 1½ pounds florets), cut into small pieces
- 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2–3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½–1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¾ pound gemelli or other pasta
- 4 cups (about 6 ounces) sourdough bread, torn into chunks
- 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained (reserve juice)
- ¼ cup capers, drained
- ¼–1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- In a baking dish, toss cauliflower, onion, and garlic with olive oil, coating vegetables thoroughly.
- Season with salt and pepper, and roast in preheated oven for 35 to 45 minutes, stirring once about halfway through, until cauliflower is tender and beginning to brown.
- While the vegetables are in the oven, heat a large pot of salted water (large enough to hold all ingredients) over high heat and cook pasta according to the instructions on the package.
- Whirl bread in a food processor to make crumbs, pulsing, until the largest pieces are roughly the size of peas.
- Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add butter. When butter is melted and bubbling, add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and set aside.
- When pasta is cooked, drain and return to the pot on the stove.
- Add roasted vegetables, tomatoes, capers, and crushed red pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring, until just heated through.
- If the mixture looks too dry, add a bit of the reserved tomato juice.Stir until well combined.
- Serve in pasta bowls topped with breadcrumbs and generously garnished with cheese.