By Our Chef, Phillip Schaaf
We have a picky eater. It’s the shame of a foodie family. It’s the embarrassment of the “chef daddy.” It started at the beginning of solid foods. She wouldn’t eat jarred vegetables as a toddler unless they were mixed heavily with puree fruits. She wouldn’t eat home prepared vegetables ever. She doesn’t like them raw or cooked, roasted or seasoned, grilled, fried or otherwise. Not a single vegetable passes the lips of our youngest child.
My profession lends me some helpful hints and techniques to deal with a picky eater, and I can say we have tried them all—the sneaky, the therapeutic, food chaining, and bribery. Our daughter decided when she was very young that there was not a sweet or dessert on the face of this broad, wide planet that was worth one bite of broccoli or green bean.
So I did what any good parent does. I fretted. Do we push her harder, leave her be? Is she healthy? We supplemented with vitamins and tried to figure out a solution that minimized the stress that mealtime caused the family. We tried everything. For year.
Summer time veggies are bountiful in Arkansas, and our house is stocked with a variety of local harvests. In an act of meal prep desperation, I decided I would try to sneak veggies in the spaghetti sauce. The child may not be too keen on vegetables, and most fruits are not well received, but there are not many pasta dishes that she has ever met that she wouldn’t eat. We have always made some version of homemade sauce. Not too involved, but fresher and tastier than anything we have ever been able to purchase in a jar.
My deceit started simple. I banished the children from the kitchen, requesting a little quiet time to cook, and I added a few cooked carrots and a can of mixed veggies to the pan with the seasonings. I blitzed them in the blender to get rid of the evidence and added lots of tomato paste to make the orange puree a more spaghetti sauce color. To my complete surprise, She ate everything on her plate and went back for seconds, and even thirds. It was literally the most vegetables the child had gotten in a meal since she was a wee baby sitting in a high chair. I was cautiously excited and careful to keep my secret. I increased the variety of vegetables that were added to the mix, and soon the sauce became a way to clean out the vegetable drawer. Not every attempt was a success. Certain things, like broccoli and cauliflower, just don’t work with the texture. A couple of times the vegetable mix was smooth enough to pass, and she wouldn’t eat it. But with several successful attempts at sneaking vegetables into the sauce, I found a rough ratio of what works.
Now that she’s older, she knows about the deceit and even helps to prepare sauce. It’s still the most reliable way to get vegetables into her diet. She hasn’t grown out of it, but it’s not the family secret anymore. It’s an accepted and favorite family recipe.
This recipe makes quite a bit of sauce. We usually bag and freeze 3/4 of the batch for quick, nutritious meals on a school night. If you don’t have space in the freezer, just cut the recipe in half and get two meals out of one pot.
If you want to shorten this recipe, you can always add a 1/4 cup of corn starch to the seasoning mix, and use half of the water. This will help thicken the sauce quickly allowing for a quick dinner fix.
What You'll Need
1 whole white onion, quartered
1 large zucchini
1 large yellow squash
2 large carrots
1 bell pepper
1 cup mushrooms
½ cup frozen peas
2 tbsp oil
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T granulated onion
1 t crushed red pepper
2 t granulated sugar
1 T each fresh chopped parsley, thyme, oregano and basil
2 packages of ground Italian sausage (or 1 sausage and 1 ground beef)
Chop all vegetables large and rustic. Cook over medium heat in oil with salt and Italian seasoning until vegetables are soft (Medium heat 10-15 minutes.) Add peas.
Grind in a food processor until smooth.
Brown the sausage, or sausage and beef combination in the same pan with a T of olive oil. Season with a healthy pinch of salt and cracked black pepper. Once browned and crumbled evenly, remove from heat and strain off any excess fat from the meat.
Return to pot, along with the processed vegetables. Add one 2 oz can of tomato paste and 1 #10 can of crushed tomato. The #10 can may be hard to find in the grocery store, so four 27 ounce cans will be fine. Add a quart and a half of water and stir in all of the dry seasonings and fresh herbs.
Cook at a slow simmer for 2 hours. Add more water if the sauce is too thick for taste.
Can be frozen in a sealed container for 3 months.