It took six years for my kid to learn to like broccoli. It didn’t matter if it was roasted, steamed or pureed—from the time she could eat solid foods, Ella hated those little “green trees.” That is, until now. She officially loves this broccoli pasta, and I think you’re going to love it too.
As a parent, sometimes it’s hard not to feel completely defeated when our kids won’t eat the foods we spend time and effort preparing. One night just a few weeks ago I made a baked “mac and cheese” style dish with cauliflower, which I was sure the girls would love. It had been a long day and a stressful evening. James was running late, and I was left to cook one-handed since Juniper wouldn’t let me put her down (have I mentioned how strong my biceps have gotten?). Dinner finally came together, and we sat to eat. Instead of the peaceful meal I had envisioned, Juni started screaming and threw her noodles at the dog, while Ella pushed her plate away with an upturned nose. I swear to you, with James as my witness, that the dish tasted just like macaroni and cheese! How could those crazy kids not like it??!
Ahhh; there’s the rub. When feeding the girls, I have to constantly remind myself to take my ego out of the equation—to not take their food preferences or dislikes personally. The rule in our house is that you don’t have to eat everything, but you do have to taste everything. Also, what you get is what you get—no snacks or separate courses if you don’t eat something (aside from fruit or yogurt). It can be hard to not feel insulted when food gets snubbed or thrown (Juniper is destined to be a baseball star), but I try to remember that my kids have their own unique palates. It’s not about me; it’s about giving them the time to develop their own tastes and to remain persistent in exposing them to new flavors while trying not to get frustrated in the process. This is sometimes easier said than done—I won’t claim that the cauliflower mac n’cheese massacre was a pretty one—but I believe it’s how kids grow their palates while retaining a healthy relationship with food.
Back to the broccoli. One night last month I realized that Ella was actually eating the roasted broccoli on her plate, after years of cruciferous avoidance. Not only that, but then she asked for seconds. OF BROCCOLI! I played it cool, then scurried into the kitchen and squealed like a puppy. I realize that my ego was rearing its head again (as in, “my kid loves broccoli! my kid loves broccoli!”), but, more than that, it was amazing to see Ella’s palate expanding on her own terms, and with relish.
I’ve since been making broccoli at least once a week, and this throw-together, one dish dinner has become a family favorite. Broccoli gets sautéed with garlic, shallots and anchovies (which you won’t taste, but which add depth of flavor) then tossed with pasta and gremolata, an Italian condiment of chopped herbs, garlic and lemon zest. Gremolata is most typically served over meat (think osso buco), but here it lends a burst of bright flavor, transforming the simple pasta into something special. A big handful of salty Pecorino cheese ties everything together.
I don’t know if this broccoli love affair will last—kids’ tastes are notoriously fickle (I still haven’t gotten over the asparagus break-up of 2014)—but we have time. Hell, by the time she’s twelve maybe she’ll even love kale.
(My Kid Loves) Broccoli Pasta
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil , plus additional for serving
- 1 medium shallot , minced (2 tablespoons minced)
- 3 large garlic cloves , thinly sliced, plus 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 2-3 anchovy filets , rinsed and coarsely chopped
- 1 ½ pounds broccoli , cut into small florets, stems peeled and diced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- ½ cup lightly packed parsley leaves
- Zest from 1 lemon
- 1 pound penne or other shaped pasta (regular, whole wheat or gluten-free)
- 1 cup coarsely grated Pecorino Romano , plus additional for serving
- Red pepper flakes , for serving (optional)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- In the meantime, place the pine nuts in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool.
- In the same skillet, add the olive oil, shallot, sliced garlic (reserve the minced garlic) and anchovy. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the shallots and garlic are fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the broccoli and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli is lightly caramelized and tender, about 6 minutes. Add the sherry vinegar and toss to coat. Remove from heat and keep warm.
- Pile the parsley, lemon zest, toasted pine nuts, and the reserved minced garlic clove on a cutting board. Season with salt and pepper. Chop everything together to make the gremolata—the parsley should be fairly well chopped.
- Once the water reaches a boil, season it with salt and add the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the package directions until al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of the cooking liquid, then drain.
- Transfer the pasta to the skillet with the broccoli, along with ½ cup of the reserved cooking water. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring, until the water is reduced and coats the pasta, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and add the gremolata, the Pecorino, and 1-2 big glugs of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss. If the pasta looks dry, add a touch more pasta water and/or olive oil. Serve the pasta with additional Pecorino on the side. If you’d like, sprinkle with a few red pepper flakes.