On Food & Love & Adolescence (+ Stove-top Mac n Cheese & Zucchini Lemon Bundt Cake)

My son is almost 13. He loves food. He used to eat most things I made. One of the ways I show my love for people is by cooking for them. Vis a vis my son that expression sometimes feels like a fine line between loving and spoiling. “Would you like a poached egg or crepes for breakfast?” is a common question proffered on week-day mornings in our house.

 

These days he wants no breakfast or maybe one or two bites of something. Why? In part because he went to bed too late and has no time, in part because maybe he’s really not hungry in the mornings, and I think in part because he’s rebelling against our expectations of him, including basic caloric requirements. . .

 

I’m so wrapped up in feeding and nourishing people that when my own son walks out the door (in a huff often) with nary a bite and then comes home having eaten only a fraction of his lunch I wonder how he can thrive. When I ask him he says: “Look at me! I’m fine! I’ll be the first to know when I’m not!” And he is thriving, I can see that he is.  And yet it’s hard for me to just let him be. He tells me I care too much and need to chill. I’m working on it. I am!

 

After he left in a huff this morning (because I asked whether he was going to drink his smoothy–which he didn’t) I’ve gone about my work day. I have plenty to keep me busy but then I see an overgrown zucchini on my counter and think of the Zucchini Lemon Bundt Cake he used to love (would he still love it?!) and whether I should make it when I’m done with my work.

 

I think I won’t make it because I need to find different ways of showing him my love my right now. And of course I’ll keep making things I think he likes but I’m working on expanding my love/parenting tool-kit . . .  like more listening and less talking.

 

He does consistently like my quick stove-top Mac n’ Cheese so if you find yourself in the presence of a hungry adolescent or really anyone who needs to eat and isn’t particularly into vegetables, give it a try!

 

Quick Stove-top Mac ‘n Cheese

 

Variations

  • Add vegetables such as peas, broccoli, cauliflower or finely chopped kale or chard about 3 minutes before the pasta is tender.
  • See this cauliflower pasta and this Brussels sprout pasta for similar dishes with vegetables.

Serves 2-3

 

1 1/2 cups tubetti (or ditalini or small elbow macaroni)

3 1/4 cups vegetable broth, chicken stock or water (if using water you’ll need 1/4 teaspoon salt)

1/2 cup heavy cream

Plenty of freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar or other grating cheese or a combination of cheddar and Parmesan

Salt, to taste (you won’t need much or any at all if you’re broth is salty–the cheese adds salt too)

Fresh parsley, basil or chives, for serving (optional)

 

Put the pasta and broth or water and salt in a medium saucepan and stir well and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 9-10 minutes uncovered until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the pasta is tender. At this point add the cream and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Cook uncovered for about 3 minutes, stirring often, until it thickens slightly and is nice and saucy.  Stir in the cheese and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot. This quick version thickens a lot as it cools and is best enjoyed right away.

When you Start Thinking About Lunch at 10am . . .

For once I was grateful that my son dislikes (well, hates!) eggplant. I got all the leftovers to myself today at lunch-time (yes it may have been an early-ish lunch).

 

I made my first Eggplant Parmesan of the summer last night. I didn’t start cooking until 6:05pm and we had dinner at 7pm and the last half hour of that the dish was in the oven. So it can be done on a weeknight!

If you like eggplant but no one else in your family days, still make it. Leftovers are so good! And you may even convert a few doubters. . .

 

Weeknight Eggplant Parmesan

 

First of all I don’t salt and drain eggplant. I used to but don’t think it made a big difference especially with nice fresh eggplant. In this preparation it also doesn’t seem to need lots of oil and cooks up perfectly in just a tablespoon of oil. The dish is so flavorful and not at all heavy like some versions I’ve eaten (and enjoyed!) over the years.

 

Serves 4-6

 

2 large globe eggplants, sliced into ¼ – 1/3 –inch slices lengthwise or into rounds

Olive oil

Salt

3 generous cups tomato sauce (recipe below, or your favorite version) heated up

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chopped basil

2 cups (or more) grated Parmesan or aged Asiago (less expensive & still delicious alternative)

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

 

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in the largest skillet you have over medium-high heat. Add eggplant slices in a single layer and sprinkle with salt. Cook for a few minutes and when the underside is nicely browning in places, flip and cook for a few more minutes until the slices are tender (but not falling apart) and browned. Remove from pan, add another tablespoon oil and repeat with remaining slices.

 

Heat up the tomato sauce with the minced garlic and basil, or just stir in cold if you’re in a hurry and you made the sauce earlier. Spread just a little tomato sauce on the bottom of an 8 x 13” baking dish (or something similar), cover with a layer of eggplant and spread a thin layer of sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with Parmesan. Repeat until you’ve used up all your ingredients, ending with either eggplant and cheese or sauce and cheese.

 

Bake for 25 minutes or so until everything is bubbling and the cheese is browning on top. You can run it under the broiler for a few minutes if you want more color. Serve hot or warm.

 

Simplest Tomato Sauce

 

Tomatoes, olive oil, salt. That’s it. When the tomatoes are good it’s honestly all you need. And I make sauce with slicer and heirloom tomatoes, not just sauce types, all the time. It takes a little longer to cook down because they’re so juicy but with a little patience and high heat it’s pretty quick too.

 

Olive oil

2 lb +/- fresh tomatoes, diced (I don’t usually bother pealing and seeding them)

Salt

A little butter, to finish (optional)

 

Coat the bottom of a wide skillet with olive oil. Heat over high heat until shimmering. Add tomatoes and a few pinches salt. Stir well, turn down to medium high and simmer, stirring often, until sauce thickens to your liking. Taste, adjust seasoning with salt and a tablespoon or two of butter, especially if the sauce is quite acidic.  Butter is THE perfecter of tomato sauce. Serve over spaghetti with Parmesan and fresh basil.