My son’s tastes range wide for a three-and-a-half year old, but like all kids, he goes through picky phases. For some reason, no matter how much my wife and I whole-heartedly love ‘em, he’s sometimes apathetic about green vegetables.
Not for lack of familiarity – we serve veggies, especially dark and leafy ones, almost every day. At times, Felix is a greens-eating machine. We take a class at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and in the Children’s Garden he munches Swiss Chard right from the plant, along with chives and sheep’s sorrel. “Lookit me, Dada,” he says between chomps. “I’m a rabbit.”
Saute that chard with garlic and olive oil, and he turns suspicious, inspecting the flakes of green at the end of his fork like they’re specimens from an alien planet. “It’s the same stuff you chew in the garden,” we tell him.
Some nights this convinces him. Other nights, his lips curl and face contorts as soon as the Chard passes his lips. “Yuck! It’s chewy,” he says. “It makes me choke.”
There’s little method to his madness. Lettuce leaves dripping with a mayonnaise-based dressing? Ok. Spinach, like Chard, is hit and miss. Kale makes for a harder sell. And Brussels Sprouts? Forget it. He pushes the little green balls around his plate for a while, whining about them, and next thing you know he’s lobbing them onto our plates. “Here you go, Dada!”
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about Your Grandmother’s Mushy Brussels Sprouts, boiled into soggy lumps that pulp into mush between your teeth. I wouldn’t want to eat that either. No, we saute our sprouts in balsamic vinegar and garlic, or glaze them in honey, or grate them over pizzas. This is the nouveau sprout: sharp, crisp, bursting with flavor. The sassy younger cousin of Old Man Boiled and his over-cooked ilk.
So my wife and I perked up when our neighbors universally lauded a recent recipe in The New York Times Dining Section: Penne with Brussels Sprouts, Chile, and Pancetta, by the fabulous Melissa Clark (who is also, full disclosure, one of said neighbors). This dish is so delicious, everyone claimed, even their kids liked it.
The secret, we thought, was the pancetta. We worship at the feet of pork products – even a hangover gets better with bacon. And that’s certainly part of this dish’s appeal. But I think the way the sprouts are prepared – finely slicing them – counts for even more. The little leaves become tender, sweet, and a lot less intimidating to pop into a tiny toddler mouth.
Other things going for it? The dish takes about 30 minutes to make, or even less if you’re speedy with knife like my wife. Place the sprouts in a colander, pull a stool up to the sink, and your child can help wash them. We have a kid-friendly cheese grater that Felix uses as well; he enjoys making white mountains of grated cheese. Though he digs spicy mustard on his grilled cheeses, we eschewed the chile pepper, opting instead for red pepper flakes sprinkled (in my case liberally) on our dishes afterward. The family can spice it up to their individual preferences.
Sure enough, though he needed some coaxing to overcome his natural aversion to new food, Felix devoured a healthy serving, and my wife and I did as well. This is a recipe we’ll happily add to our repertoire.
Source: The New York Times